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Global health

Initiative sees pharmacists offer Ebola advice in Liberian drug stores

World Health Organization takes steps to dampen public expectation about the potential of drugs in development to fight the virus.

Ebola outbreak in Liberia

Source: epa european pressphoto agency b.v. / Alamy

Liberians read the ’daily talk’ chalkboard on the Ebola crisis in the capital Monrovia. According to statistics from the World Health Organization, as of 16 August 2014, 1,229 people have died from Ebola in West Africa

Pharmacists and pharmacy students in Liberia are to visit drug stores and pharmacies to give staff advice about preventing the spread of the Ebola virus in the country’s capital city Monrovia.

The initiative is being led by the Pharmaceutical Association of Liberia and will start on Wednesday 20 August 2014.

Pharmacists will also hand out flyers at premises across the capital, which explain how staff and the public can protect themselves and to help dispel myths that are circulating about how the virus is caught.    

At the same time, the country’s medicines control authority is inspecting pharmacy premises to make sure that drug counterfeiters are not bringing fake Ebola products on to the market, exploiting the current climate of public fear.

“The profession has taken up health promotion and information dissemination sessions, starting with pharmacies and medicines stores,” explains Lloyd Matowe, program director for Pharmaceutical Systems Africa — an organisation devoted to setting up sustainable supply chains in developing countries.

Latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that Liberia continues to have the highest number of new cases and deaths from Ebola. Since 15 August 2014, there have been 48 new cases and 53 deaths in the West African country.

Matowe confirmed reports by the WHO that dangerous advice is circulating on social media and elsewhere. On 15 August 2014, the WHO highlighted the deaths of two people in Nigeria from drinking salt water in the false belief that it would save them from contracting the virus.

“There are a number of myths doing the rounds, including the mass baths of people with salt water as a means of protecting themselves,” says Matowe. “During this last week, a number of pastors of religion died from the disease after laying their hands on diseased people. There is also a rumour that people are dying from poisoned wells where people draw water.”

Following a WHO announcement that it was ethical to use drugs in development to help in the battle against Ebola, Matowe says there was a “hint of disappointment” that there are not sufficient supplies of the Ebola serum Zmapp available.

“When it became apparent that only two or three [boxes] of Zmapp were available, there was the sense from some quarters that the West had again ‘sold them a dummy’,” he says. “Even though 1,000 doses of the experimental Canadian-made vaccine VSV-EBOV was made available, there was a general feeling that this was not as potent as Zmapp.”

Matowe’s comments come after the WHO took steps to dampen public expectation about the potential of drugs in development to fight the virus. Recent coverage of its decision to give the green light to experimental drugs had created “unrealistic expectations” in an “emotional climate of intense fear”, the WHO said in a statement.

It confirmed that existing supplies of these products are either extremely limited or already exhausted. Despite the agreed acceleration in their production in the coming months, supplies will be too small to have any significant impact on the current outbreak.

Latest figures from the WHO put the total number of Ebola cases in the countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone at 2,240. There have been 1,229 deaths so far in this outbreak.     

The WHO’s Ebola emergency committee has decided against recommending a ban on international travel or trade to the affected areas in West Africa and has reiterated that the risk of catching the virus during air travel is low.

It recommends that individual countries should advise travellers about the precautions they need to take when travelling to an Ebola-affected country.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.20066225

Readers' comments (1)

  • This is an excellent initiative. It is my hope this this initiative obliterates the ignorance and denial that are contributing to the spread of this virus. Taking this message to pharmacies is ideal because these situations of distrusts amongst patients and health workers, many now see the pharmacy to be a place where there health needs can be addressed. Many thanks to PSA, PAL and pharmacy students.

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