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UCL Fight the Fakes at the 71st World Health Assembly, Geneva

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Students from the UCL School of Pharmacy, Katherine Cho, Naira Ghanem and Sheena Kutikala attended the 71st World Health Assembly held in Geneva, representing UCL Fight the Fakes

Source: Courtesy of UCL Fight the Fakes

UCL Fight the Fakes representatives from left: Sheena Kutikala, Naira Ghanem and Woohyun Katherine Cho

We are UCL Fight the Fakes (FTF), a group of students and staff at the UCL School of Pharmacy, working to raise awareness about the dangers of substandard and falsified medicines globally. We work with Fight the Fakes and 35 other partners including the World Medical Association, the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP), International Pharmaceutical Students Federation (IPSF) and others to encourage people to speak up about issues surrounding medicines of poor quality.

The UCL FTF chapter was launched in 2015 by Oksana Pyzik, UCL senior teaching fellow & global health advisor to the Commonwealth Pharmacists Association, with the aim to improve pharmacy education on medicines quality globally, develop a research agenda on substandard and falsified medicines and support students in public engagement and advocacy efforts to counter fake medicines.

As students, we were inspired by the initiative and leadership shown by our peers UCL FTF student leads James Corridan and Trevor Lowe at the previous World Health Assembly at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva. We are thrilled that this year we have also had the opportunity to represent the Campaign at WHA, which coincided with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 70th Birthday!

The World Health Assembly is the Forum by which the World Health Organisation, a subsidiary agency of the UN, is governed by its Member States and is the world’s highest health policy setting body. Each year in May, Health Ministers and their member state delegations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other international agencies meet to set the global health agenda and approve the WHO work programme. The top priority of the WHO director general, Dr Tedros’s mission is to drive forward Universal Health Coverage (UHC). We believe that UHC is not possible without quality of care and access to medicines we can trust. Therefore, the issue of substandard and falsified medicines is at the very heart of UHC and in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 3 : “Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages”

Medicines we can trust

The first side event we attended was “Medicines we can trust: A call to safeguard quality”, hosted by U.S Pharmacopeia (USP), unveiling the new and upcoming campaign: MedsWeCanTrust. One of the crucial questions presented to the audience was how to make medicines quality a priority across communities and settings. Although advocacy leadership often stems from Geneva or New York, national governments and communities must take action for change to be impactful.

Dr. Ashish K Jha, director, Harvard Global Institute stated, “Talking to people on the ground in West Africa, the word “trust” keeps coming up. The public has expectations when engaging with the health system, and so we have to act in good will and with competence”. In addition, we must also address the issue of social injustice, where low-middle income countries (LMICs) do not have reliable access to quality medicines alongside the higher prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Achieving #HealthForAll

It was inspiring to attend the first ever Youth Town Hall — a global conversation on how youth can take part in achieving #HealthForAll. The importance of student and early professionals’ engagement in global health was stressed here, and how our work will be part of something much more significant in the long run. This conversation aims to change the narrative from ‘Youth are the problem’ to ‘Youth are part of the solution’. Youth are essential in implementing the strategies and policies agreed upon at a global level and we should have a voice in every consultation with the World Health Organisation (WHO). With youth involvement there is no doubt that outcomes could be very different.

Substandard and falsified medicines

One of the highlights of the assembly was taking part in the side event: “Combatting the challenges of substandard and falsified medicines, addressing the critical role of regulators”. Starting with the interactive display of real life ‘fake meds’ and infographics educating attendees about substandard and falsified (SF) medicines.

The necessity of political will, alongside tangible innovations was emphasised in the fight against fake medicines panel. Punitive legal measures must be used to tackle the fatal risks associated with the use of substandard and falsified medicines alongside improved reporting systems, collection of new data, initiation of quicker responses and alerts, as well as communicating and strengthening regulatory and support systems both regional and national. Rita Purcell, deputy chief executive, Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), discussed the introduction of the Falsified Medicine Directive (FMD) in 2019 across the European Union, and its role in managing the complex supply chain in high income countries.

Access to quality medicines

Last but not least, we attended “USP’s Convention: Incentivising Investments in Access to Quality Medicines” on FridaySpecial guests included his excellency health minister of Ethiopia as well as Professor Maji Christianah Adeyeye, director general, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).  Discussions were based on improving access to quality medicines, from substandard and falsified medicines to the need to develop a paediatric formulation for tuberculosis.  We enjoyed gaining insight into the movement of the pharmaceutical industry towards real-time reporting, data collection and promoting local production to battle poor access to medicines and SF medicines. With this in mind, we can expect a lot of change in the upcoming years, especially in Africa. We can only hope that it is for the best, for the sake of providing access to medicines and health for all. This fantastic poster outlines key points from the panelist’s discussion and was made during the discussion!

Poster on 'Incentivising Investments in Access to Quality Medicines'

Source: Courtesy of UCL Fight the Fakes

Key points for ensuring access to safe, quality medicines

What made our time in Geneva even more memorable was meeting students from the International Federation of Medical Students’ Association (IFMSA) and International Pharmaceutical Students’ Federation (IPSF) — hopefully, we will see them again next year!

Being the third year UCL Fight the Fakes has attended the WHA, it has been an eye-opening experience and a key opportunity to raise awareness of our campaign. We learned a lot about critical health needs worldwide and it is now our role as student healthcare professionals to go back to our communities and share this knowledge, to educate and empower others.

If you are interested in learning more about substandard and falsies medicines check out our High Level Panel Event “Addressing the Global Impact of Substandard & Falsified Medicines” with speakers from WHO, MHRA and the UCL Institute of Global Health discussing the challenges and magnitude of the issue here: https://youtu.be/4H3x3QDxiJ8

Further coverage of the panel event was published as an editorial in The Lancet and is available here:

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanres/article/PIIS2213-2600(18)30152-8/fulltext

About the Authors

Naira Ghanem

Naira is a student lead for the UCL Fight the Fakes campaign, and is currently working on her MPharm project highlighting healthcare professionals knowledge of, exposure to and attitudes towards substandard and falsified antimicrobials. Previous experiences include working at Lloyds Pharmacy, a BPSA representative, President of the UCLU Arabic Society, and the health and beauty writor and editor at GAYA.

Email: naira.ghanem@hotmail.co.uk

Facebook: Naira Ghanem

Twitter: @Naira_Ghanem

LinkedIn: Naira Ghanem https://www.linkedin.com/in/naira-ghanem-3aa3b58a/

Sheena Kutikala

Sheena is a 4th year Mpharm student, and a committee member of the UCL fight the fakes campaign. Previous experience include working at Boots pharmacy , Royal Bournemouth NHS Trust Hospital, and a volunteer with St Johns Ambulance. Sheena recently took part in the UCL enterprise and innovation course and won the explore programme after pitching a business idea. She has a keen interest on quality assurance, global health and gender equality in the health work force. She is committed towards making a positive difference in healthcare , in the wider world.

Email address: sheeku95@yahoo.co.uk  

Woohyun Katherine Cho

Woohyun Katherine is a media representative for the UCL Fight the Fakes campaign & UCL Friends of MSF and is studying MPharm degree with interest in the human right to healthcare. Katherine’s previous experiences include working as a Student Intern at Makati Medical Centre, Somerset Partnership NHS Trust and Celltrion Healthcare, NICE Student Champion, First Aider of St John’s Ambulance, Student Representative of National Pathology Week, Delegate of National Student Antimicrobial Resistance Conference, and freelancing as a a Korean-English translator & interpreter.

Email: Katherine.cho.16@ucl.ac.uk 

Twitter: @KatherineWHCho

 

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