New Pharmacy Assistants Help Narrow the ART Dispensing Gap in Namibia

Class of 2017 National Health Training Center Pharmacist Assistant Graduates. Permanent Secretary of the MOHSS Dr. Andreas Mwoombola (second row center) is flanked by NHTC Deputy Director Otillie Kutenda, MSH Country Director Evans Sagwa, and NHTC Lecturer Negussie Debencho (right) and by the Head of Keetmanshoop NHTC Stephanus Ludwig Claassen, USAID TB/HIV Advisor Rosalia Indongo, and NHTC Lecturer Mwape Kunda (left). Photo credit: SIAPS Namibia, June 1, 2017, Windhoek

On June 1, 2017, 38 new pharmacy assistants (PAs) graduated from Namibia’s National Health Training Center (NHTC).

At the graduation ceremony, Dr. Andreas Mwoombola, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MOHSS), encouraged the graduates to prioritize the health of their communities and to serve those communities with dignity. He decried the poor work ethic of some health care workers, which translates to poor quality of service.

“Follow what you have been trained to do and resist what old guards are going to tell you,” he said.

Over the past 10 years, nearly 200 PAs have graduated from the NHTC. Technical assistance for various projects has been funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Management Sciences for Health (MSH). The growing number of pharmacy staff is a relief in Namibia, where the increased burden of HIV/AIDS has intensified the demand for human resources to provide pharmaceutical services to the public, including providing antiretroviral therapy (ART) services to patients.

Since 2007, the USAID-funded Systems for Improved Access to Pharmaceuticals and Services (SIAPS) Program and its predecessor programs have assisted the NHTC to revise the PA curriculum and incorporate in-service HIV pharmaceutical management modules; recruit, hire, and second tutors; refurbish classrooms and equip the PA skills laboratory to accommodate a larger number of students; and install the Electronic Dispensing Tool for pre-service training.

PA graduate Abel Mutonga (center) received the Best Pharmacist Assistant award for 2017. He was joined by USAID Namibia TB/HIV Advisor Rosalia Indongo (left) and MSH Country Director Evans Sagwa (right). Photo credit: SIAPS Namibia, June 1, 2017, Windhoek

USAID’s support to the NHTC continues to significantly increase the availability of local, qualified, certified pharmacy staff to decentralize and expand access to ART services and to improve the quality of dispensing services, particularly in Namibia’s urban centers, where the ART dispensing workload is high, and in remote areas.

Mr. Abel Mutonga was the top PA student in 2016 and the president of the NHTC student body. He spoke on behalf of his fellow graduates and stressed the need for them to have the right attitude toward their clients.

“Patients are the reason why we are employed, so let us serve them unconditionally,” he said.

Within the public sector, PA functions include managing pharmaceutical and related products; prepacking medicines in ready-to-distribute packs; manufacturing sterile and non-sterile products; and providing health promotion information with supervision from a pharmacist.