April 20, 2011

Namibia gets first-ever pharmacy degree program with help from UW

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

More than 13 percent of adults in the sub-Saharan African nation of Namibia have HIV or AIDS. Namibians also face high risks of contracting diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis.

Sam Nujoma, University of Namibia chancellor, presents the UW a certificate of appreciation, accepted by Andy Stergachis, UW professor of epidemiology and global health and adjunct professor of pharmacy.

Compounding these health issues is the fact that the country’s 2 million people have fewer than 200 pharmacists to provide care for people who require essential medications, a recent University of Namibia press release reports.

This past March, Namibia’s Former President and Founding Father Sam Nujoma officially launched the pharmacy program and welcomed the first class of pharmacy students. Andy Stergachis, UW professor of epidemiology and global health and adjunct professor of pharmacy and health services, was in Namibia for the celebration. He was a key player in the formation of this degree program.

“It was powerful to see this group of pharmacy students who will be part of something so important to the entire nation of Namibia,” said Stergachis.

Stergachis is a principal investigator on the UW Management Sciences for Health/Strengthening Pharmaceutical Systems (SPS) grant. SPS is a project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development to help developing countries strengthen and manage pharmaceutical systems and improve access to and use of quality medicines. Through this grant, Stergachis and two School of Pharmacy faculty members — professor Lou Garrison and affiliate professor John Watkins — traveled to Namibia in early 2009 to train UNAM leadership on pharmacovigilance (the science and application of drug safety) and pharmacoeconomics (the economic evaluation of drug therapies and formulary decisions).

Since that time, multiple UW pharmacy faculty members have advised UNAM faculty members on curriculum issues and helped with faculty recruitment. Stergachis has returned to Namibia several times to offer additional workshops and consultations to faculty and administrators at the UNAM School of Medicine.

Meanwhile, leaders at UNAM have been advertising the new degree program, ensuring the curriculum meets international best practice standards, reviewing applications from potential students and recruiting faculty. The Namibian Ministry of Health has also been building and enhancing clinical training centers for the students.

In February 2011, everything came together when 24 pharmacy students started classes at the University of Namibia. This marked the creation of a degree program that has not existed in Namibia since the country gained independence from South Africa in 1990.

By taking this step to address the country’s pharmacist shortage, the Namibian Ministry of Health is seeking to ease the burden on the country’s limited health care resources. More pharmacists will mean the population will have greater access to vaccinations, disease screenings and essential medications. Pharmacists also provide important medication safety and adherence consultations to people taking medications. For Namibians on antiretroviral therapy to treat HIV or medications to treat tuberculosis, such consultations can be crucial.

So as the first class of pharmacy students at UNAM now enters its third month of classes, Stergachis and School of Pharmacy Associate Dean of Professional Pharmacy Education Stan Weber are continuing to help UNAM develop its pharmacy degree program. They are offering their expertise to faculty members in Namibia and planning to offer more workshops online as well as to share teaching resources. In addition, during the next academic year, UW pharmacy student Elise Fields will travel to Windhoek as a UW Thomas Francis, Jr. Global Health Fellow, where she’ll help the Windhoek General Hospital develop a pharmacy practicum site.

Officials in Namibia, including Former President Nujoma, have expressed much optimism about what this new pharmacy degree program will mean for the country’s future.

“It is my wish and hope that future pharmacists qualifying from UNAM will be available to serve Namibians through the public, private and non-governmental sectors,” said Nujoma, who is also the UNAM chancellor, in a press release. He also said that he hopes the degree program will eventually lead to local pharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities that can harness the country’s wealth of traditional medicines and natural plants.