Globally, 3m People Die From Medication Error Annually -WHO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that three (3) million people globally die from medication errors every year.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti disclosed this in her message to commemorate the 2022 World Patient Safety Day.

According to Moeti, World Patient Safety Day is marked annually on 17 September, with the aim to raise awareness of the importance of people-centred care and prevent harm to patients.

She said the theme for this year, “Medication Safety: Medication Without Harm”, specifically draws attention to the need to improve systems to support safe medication, and address unsafe practices.

She explained that medication errors occurred most commonly due to weaknesses in medication systems, and were aggravated by shortages of well-trained health staff, and poor working and environmental conditions for delivery of quality health care.

Furthermore, she noted that, patients’ rights to medication without prejudice could be compromised through inappropriate prescribing, transcribing, dispensing, administration and monitoring practices.

Dr. Moeti also noted that there was a high magnitude of unsafe medication practices in the African continent, heightened by the prevalence of counterfeit medicines:

“Global estimates show that medication errors contribute to over 3 million deaths every year, a situation which has been exacerbated by overwhelmed health systems during the COVID-19 pandemic. About one in every four cases of preventable medication harm is clinically severe, or life-threatening.

“While there is limited data for the African continent, it is generally acknowledged that there is a high magnitude of unsafe medication practices. Among low- and middle-income countries, the African Region has the highest prevalence of substandard and counterfeit medicines (18.7%)”, she said.

The WHO Boss therefore, advised that harmful practices such as administration of surplus medication at home, purchase of medication from pharmacies on the advice of friends and relatives rather than trained professionals, and use of old prescriptions to buy medication to treat a current ailment be avoided.

Speaking further, she said, “one study done in 2021 shows that as many as one in every three respondents admitted to self-medicating to prevent COVID-19.

“This is unacceptably high because such unguided practices often lead to dangerous consequences as a result of drug interactions, or incorrect administration, dosage or choice of treatment.

“Consequences include delays in treating diseases, dependence and abuse, disability, and even death. Weak medication systems and/or human factors are the major contributory factors to unsafe practices, with many countries lacking the capacity to detect, evaluate and prevent medicine safety issues.

“Other contributory factors include fatigue, inadequate knowledge and training, staff shortages, workplace distractions, and high workload and limited resources. Illiteracy, language difficulties, as well as socio-cultural and religious beliefs, also play a role”.

Highlighting some of WHO’s efforts in curbing the menace of medication error, the WHO Africa Regional Director said:

“As WHO, we are working with Member States to implement the WHO Global Patient Safety Action Plan 2021–2030. A regional patient safety strategy and road map are currently being developed to guide its implementation.

“Some notable highlights include support to establish and strengthen national medicine regulatory authorities (NRAs), by building regulatory capacity and promoting regulatory harmonization and cooperation. Strengthened regulatory systems serve to eliminate barriers which impede access to safe, effective and quality assured medical products.

“Efforts to enhance the role of health technologies in medication decision-making, including initiatives to reduce antimicrobial resistance, have led to eight countries being assisted to implement antimicrobial stewardship interventions at national and health care facility level.

“WHO is also supporting overall improvements in Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures, including injection safety, in all Member States.
The global campaign’s call to action is ‘KNOW. CHECK. ASK’.

“It aims to encourage and empower patients and their caregivers, as well as health care professionals (nurses, physicians, pharmacists), to take a more active role in ensuring safer medication practices, and medication-use processes.

Concluding her message, Moeti urged all stakeholders to fully commit to implementing the WHO Global Patient Safety Challenge: Medication Without Harm, and to accelerate the actions necessary to ensure safe medication practices.

“The need for accurate data and information to guide future decision-making and optimization of therapeutics for good treatment outcomes in the Region cannot be overemphasized”, she added.

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