By Kidwell Matshotyana, SIAPS Country Project Director
Many countries have made significant progress in fighting HIV over the past decade. Investing in technical assistance, procuring antiretrovirals (ARVs), and training health care workers have meant that fewer people die from HIV infections. Today, a world without AIDS is closer than we have ever imagined. We are already seeing a dramatic decline in cases of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. This is due to strong government leadership and generous donations from international and bilateral organizations, such as the Global Fund and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
Health workers, including medical doctors, nurses, and lay care workers, have played a significant role in the effort to fight HIV. The role of pharmacists has been more limited, and few countries recognize the importance of this group. Pharmacists are often seen as the ARV procurement and supply chain coordinators in HIV programs. ARV side effects, adherence monitoring, and patient safety are frequently overlooked or assigned to lay workers. The introduction of newer ARV medicines presents an opportunity for pharmacists to expand their role as members of the multidisciplinary team that treats and cares for people living with HIV. Pharmacists have a clear role to play, from advising on the choice of therapy to monitoring adherence, drug-drug interactions, and adverse events. A pharmacist is often the patient’s last point of contact when obtaining services at an outpatient facility. This places pharmacists in a unique position to emphasize key adherence messages and highlight important information regarding the treatment.
Given the expected significant increase in the number of patients undergoing HIV treatment over the next two decades, patients living longer, and starting treatment early, it is important that we focus on HIV pharmaceutical care. More than ever before, patient care requires a multidisciplinary approach. We need to bring pharmacist to the table to continue improving HIV services and achieve the UNAIDS 90:90:90 goals.