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Pharmacists' role is much more than just dispensing medicine: PHCC

24 Sep 2020

Dr. Al Mahmoud

6,000 prescriptions processed; 750 patients receive medicines at home on a daily basis during COVID-19.

The worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 this year raised questions on the significance of enhancing the role of technology to minimize the spread of epidemics and diseases. Many people preferred ordering online for protective masks and immunity boosting drugs rather than seeking pharmacies in order to avoid physical interaction with others.

In light of the new normal forced upon us due to COVID-19, many have reiterated the significance of digitalizing the pharmacy sector and drug market to be inclusive of a digital system that links medical clinics to hospitals, health insurance companies and pharmacies to a central database whereby patients can buy their medicines from pharmacists using certified electronic medical prescriptions.

In this regard, Dr. Mahmoud Al Mahmoud, Head of Pharmacy & Therapeutics Supply at Primary Health Care Corporation (PHCC) emphasized that the role of pharmacists in assisting patients during the pandemic is much more than just dispensing medication, they play a major role in protecting the health and well-being of patients. He believes the responsibilities of pharmacists during COVID-19 has increased two-fold.

According to Dr Mahmoud, pharmacists are integral to providing healthcare to patients and help speed up the recovery process, as they ensure that the medicine is given in an appropriate dose and the right frequency. The highly qualified pharmacists at the hospitals and health centres in Qatar have worked tirelessly during the pandemic, and their expertise helped deal with cases during the past few months.

The contribution of the pharmacists at the Intensive and Medical Care Units included reviewing test results, especially liver and kidney tests, and adjusting the correct doses for each patient to ensure it does not adversely affect their health. They are also responsible for reviewing chronic diseases medicines in order to avoid drug interaction or reactions to ensure a patient's condition is stable, and dispensing accurate measurement of doses of highly toxic medicines.


Pharmacy and COVID-19

As for the role played by the pharmacy sector in COVID-19, Dr. Al Mahmoud said: "Pharmacists have a vital role in the health system and are the cornerstone of the therapeutic and preventive work team. They provide and control medicines and monitor the medication stock as they prepare, review and audit prescriptions ensuring they are consistent with the safety conditions. Furthermore, they deliver medicines to patients directly or via the home delivery service and educate them on the appropriate use of medicines, and on COVID-19 updates as well as the precautionary regulations and measures followed at the health centre."


Medication In Stock

With regards to the hurdles faced by PHCC's health centers during COVID-19, Dr. Al Mahmoud said: "This pandemic has crossed all borders and interrupted communication between people. We have witnessed closures of airports and borders whether for travelling or transportation of goods, including medications. However, this did not go beyond the temporary delay in supplying certain medication items. Given our existing medication stock, with some rationing in the policy of dispensing medicines and resorting to alternative medicines, we have managed to overcome all impediments and keep things going smoothly ensuring there is no shortage.

The major issue we focused on and had to resolve was protecting pharmacists and pharmacy workers against COVID-19 infection, which we managed with precautionary measures and educating the staff."


Most-Used Medication

According to Dr. Al Mahmoud, each patient has his own condition, circumstances and treatment depending on how severe or mild the symptoms are. Overall, the most used medicines are fever reducing medicines, vitamin C, cough medicines, decongestants, sinus medications and certain types of antibiotics which only mitigate symptoms but do not cure the infection itself.


COVID-19 Statistics

On the figures and statistics related to the operation of the PHCC's pharmacies during COVID-19, Dr. Al Mahmoud said that work in health centers has never stopped. We had to adapt to continuous work and promptly respond to each and every emergency, as we had to process approximately 6,000 medical prescriptions on a daily basis, besides the home prescriptions via home delivery service in collaboration with Qatar Post which reached 750 prescriptions per day.


Home Delivery

On his personal evaluation of the home delivery experience, Dr. Al Mahmoud said: "Based on the feedback received by the medical staff and the users of this service, we have received positive and promising responses on the easy and speedy delivery of medicines, and on how this helps limit the spread of the virus among workers and visitors at the health centers."


Summer and Medication

Dr. Al Mahmoud added that in summer, the longest season of the year, more people, especially the elderlies, children and workers, are expected to suffer from typical summer illnesses. This is mainly caused by the extreme heat and humidity, and exposure to cold air from air-conditioners giving rise to health disorders. Hence, people would increasingly seek antibiotics, antifungal medications, antihistamines, and chest and oesophagus infection relief medicines, which makes pain killers and skin ointments the most popular medications during summer.

Investment in Medicines

"We have highly qualified pharmaceutical manufacturers that meet international standards, but only cover a small proportion of Qatar's needs. The good news is they are working on increasing supplies and varieties," Dr. Al Mahmoud says.

He added: "Pharmaceutical investment and medicine industry are among the most vital investments worldwide and local manufacturing is one of the foundations of strategic security for any country and should be secured and developed, especially when it comes to essential medications.

Hence, I call upon investors, especially those with manufacturing expertise and knowledge, because pharmaceutical industry is highly specialized and requires meeting international standards and specifications. Hence it needs investors with a vision and interest in health affairs, and familiarity with essential priorities for this industry.