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Global health

Standing up to Ebola

Pharmacists may not be needed at the bedside in the present Ebola epidemic, but their experience in pharmaceutical logistics should be utilised.

The Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa continues, with as many as 7,470 people infected and 3,431 deaths as of 1 October 2014. The situation is far from under control, described by the World Health Organization as persistent and widespread in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the three worst affected countries. The healthcare systems there have been crippled by the outbreak.

Poor pharmaceutical management infrastructure in the West African countries was recently highlighted in a comment article in The Pharmaceutical Journal. The author, Lloyd Matowe, a Liberia-based programme director for consulting organisation Pharmaceutical Systems Africa, did not suggest that pharmacists should travel to the regions affected by Ebola. Rather, he said the international pharmacy community could help to improve in-country education and training resources.

Efforts to improve local know-how for the future should be welcomed. But the crisis is now, and it is unabated.

Senior officers for the NHS have published a letter encouraging healthcare professionals to consider volunteering in Africa to assist with the Ebola epidemic. Pharmacists are included in this letter, along with doctors, nurses, paramedics, psychologists, health information managers and logisticians.

In the letter, Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer at the Department of Health, Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director for NHS England, Paul Cosford, medical director at Public Health England, and Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer for England, set out how professionals can help staff a 62-bed facility being built in Sierra Leone to treat people with the disease. Professionals can put themselves forward through the UK International Emergency Medical Register, which is coordinated by UK-Med — a charity that dispatches aid teams to disaster areas worldwide.

By the time we went to press, more than 400 NHS staff had registered their interest, including 17 pharmacists, although UK-Med is not specifically looking for pharmacists at this time.

The UK government’s correspondence in September 2014 follows the United Nations Security Council declaring this Ebola virus disease outbreak — the largest ever — a matter of grave concern. The UN, too, has appealed to healthcare professionals to go and assist. Pharmacy is among the health professional backgrounds now being sought by the UN Volunteers programme.

Expertise in pharmaceutical logistics and product management systems is lacking in many areas affected by Ebola virus disease. Such knowledge is crucial in ensuring adequate provision of medicines where they are needed. Pharmacists can collaborate with officials locally to address supply chain issues, and the drugs being considered for purchase need to be assessed for quality.

Pharmacists might not be required at the bedside in this crisis, but those who wish to lend their expertise in these other essential areas must be supported to do so.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.20066723

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