Nurses: A barrier between patients and counterfeit drugs
With an increase in pharma companies, number and types of drugs for patients, we must accept the growing role of nurses in patient safety. They have become the front line for pharma drug safety in hospitals and medical facilities, says Nakul Pasricha, President¸ Authentication Solution Providers’ Association (ASPA)
While the entire health community is working hard in making this world a safer place, some issues need utmost attention. Firstly, to deliver and sustain Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2030, the world requires 18 million health workers. Currently, India has only 1.7 nurses available per thousand population against the WHO recommendation of 2.5 nurses per thousand population. In other words, the country is short of 2.5 million nurses.
Secondly, we need to control the increasing incidence of falsified medicines in the healthcare supply chain. Achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2030 is difficult without eliminating sub-standard and falsified medicines from the system.
According to a study by the International Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM), globally, counterfeiting has been measured as about a $200-billion problem in terms of statistics. Similarly, new research from WHO estimated that one in 10 medical products circulating in low- and middle-income countries is either substandard or falsified. Since 2013, WHO has received 1500 reports of cases of substandard or falsified products. Of these, antimalarials and antibiotics are the most reported. Most of the news (42 per cent) comes from the WHO African Region, 21 per cent each from the American and European regions. One of the reasons for malaria’s continued virulence in the developing world is ineffective medicine.
Role of nurses in the fight against fakes
Being aware of a problem is a significant step in tackling it. In several countries, nurses and pharmacist associations, in collaboration with their national drug regulatory authorities, have developed some useful continuing education tools to inform nurses and pharmacists about this issue. With an increase in pharma companies, number and types of drugs for patients, we must accept the growing role of nurses in patient safety. They are also the frontline soldiers striving for pharma drug safety in hospitals and medical facilities. Thus, the nurses’ role is vital in solving both challenges. They make up more than half of the shortfall. They are intrinsically linked to the ability of countries to address health priorities and achieve sustainable development goals (SDGs). As nurses, they deliver up to 80 per cent of all healthcare services worldwide.
Whenever anyone is admitted in the hospital, they are the ones administering patient drugs. They prescribe, manage and monitor patient treatment. Their presence, expertise, knowledge are essential to eliminate potential risks to patient safety.
The experienced nurses are well-positioned to detect falsified medicines and early side effects of it. The new generation technocrat nurses with innovative authentication and traceability solutions can help the patient in the authentication process and eliminate falsified medicines from the systems.
They are amongst the few professionals who are aware of the most medicine packaging. In hospitals, they are the one who gives medicines to patients and co-ordinating pharmacies. There are a few crucial tips that need awareness at their level. As many brands are using authentication solutions on their packaging, a close look is very vital. The pack of medicine can look for an informative message from brands to identify genuine products. As many brands are using physical and digital authentication technologies in their drug packaging, nurses can quickly check these with mobile or web-based application. For example, they can easily check if the security seal, especially in bottled medicines, should not be damaged or tampered or unique code printed on medicine blister packing or carton can be easily verified by sending an SMS. Although it will slightly increase their work, it will also minimise the risk of falsified medicine in systems to a large extent. They can sense effects quickly and can take appropriate action when they do occur. There is a growing need for drug safety nurses. They can become key players to increase vigilance and reporting of possible falsified medicines.
Empowering consumer and nurses in the authentication process
Falsified and spurious medicines are a symptom of much larger problems like of lack of accessibility, quality and affordability in healthcare. The common problem in eliminating counterfeiters from systems is completing an authentication system and engaging the consumer. Globally, the International Nurses Council (ICN) is running a mass awareness campaign in fighting falsified medicines for nurses. While government and brands are working on it and finding new ways to educate consumers, adding healthcare staff, especially nurses, can be a game-changer. Nurses can be an essential barrier in our fight against drug counterfeiting, and for that, we must ensure they get the respect they deserve.