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• 19 July 2021
Radio and television interviews, lectures and conferences, pop-up blood pressure and diabetes testing clinics, presentations to health ministers, dyeing national monuments green and even flash mobs and mass dewormings are just some of the events that have been organised for World Pharmacists Day (WPD) in the past 10 years, all in the name of advocating our profession. We reached out to member organisations in our six regions to find out what they did for WPD and World Pharmacy Week (WPW) in 2020, and what they have planned for this year, to provide colleagues with some inspiration. In Part 1 of this article, we visit the European, African and South East Asian regions. Lin-Nam Wang reports.
European region: Explaining what pharmacists do
The Association of Finnish Pharmacies used WPD and WPW last year to tell people about the care that pharmacists take when filling a prescription, with emphasis on how they are putting digital technology to use. In Finland, all prescriptions are electronic and collected by patients (or their representatives) presenting an ID card. Campaign assets included posters and a video that explained the steps that pharmacists take to ensure a medicine is appropriate, including: checking patient records and reimbursement data, checking an interactions database, and using a digital medicines verification system to ensure a medicine is not falsified. “We estimate that pharmacies make approximately one million electronic searches of databases every day but patients don’t see this. Explaining the measures we take — using different databases and assimilating this information before supply — has helped increase understanding and appreciation of our expertise,” said Elina Aaltonen, brand manager and pharmacist at the Association of Finnish Pharmacies. The association’s video was designed to be shared through social media and played on pharmacy counter screens to patients while they wait for their prescription medicines.
|Posters and a video that explained the steps that pharmacists in Finland take to ensure a medicine is appropriate.|
Ms Aaltonen said that the association runs a number of campaigns during the year and believes that WPD and WPW are the best times for the key message that in a pharmacy you will always be served by a healthcare professional. “I think WPD and WPW are an important opportunity for us to feel proud of our profession. Finland doesn’t have its own national pharmacists day and therefore we’re really happy to have this occasion to unite and celebrate with our global family,” she added.
This year, the association’s WPD/WPW campaign will highlight why pharmacists do counselling, even when patients are familiar with their medicines, in order to bring about a deeper understanding that pharmacists always ask questions in order to ensure safety and that the medicine is working. The association plans to incorporate the global theme of trust in its campaign: “In Finland, pharmacists have been in the top three most trusted professions for as many years as I remember. We’re really happy about this and, of course, will be sharing this message too,” Ms Aaltonen said.
The association also reflects on each campaign it runs to make improvements and this year it will be cutting its video into short clips so that different points can be made throughout the week. It used professional designers to produce its campaign assets but, as Ms Aaltonen said, nowadays just about anyone can make a video. “What’s important is to have an idea and a key message that’s short and clear — perhaps with only five key points — and to share this. This can be done on little budget, but you can also join the campaign by using the international materials from FIP,” she added.
African region: A hook to broadcast strategic messages through the media
The Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana (PSGH) has celebrated WPD since 2012. “The PSGH is committed to various advocacy and medicine safety campaigns all year round. However, WPD affords us the opportunity to commend and celebrate pharmacists, and to further encourage programmes and activities that seek to promote and advocate the unique and indispensable role of the pharmacist within the healthcare delivery system,” said Benjamin Kwame Botwe, PSGH president.
On the eve of WPD last year, the society issued a press release describing how pharmacists “contribute to a world where everyone benefits from access to safe, effective, quality and affordable medicines and health technologies, as well as from pharmaceutical care services” and the day itself was officially launched by Mr Botwe at the PSGH annual general meeting, attended virtually by pharmacists from across Ghana. “The occasion was graced by the president of Ghana H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, who gave a speech recognising and applauding pharmacists for the important roles played to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and challenging us to leverage on technology and innovations to extend pharmaceutical services to underserved areas,” Mr Botwe told IPJ. This event was only one of a number of activities in advocacy and public health education that the PSGH undertook. In particular the society used WPD to:
- Propose to the leadership of Ghana the establishment of a National Institute of Pharmaceutical Research to facilitate research into pharmacy, a National Bioequivalence Testing Centre to support local production of generic medicines and a Model Community Pharmacy concept to extend pharmaceutical care to underserved districts and communities across the country;
- Call on stakeholders in health care to look for strategic ways to fully utilise the expansive knowledge and expertise of pharmacists. (“With the advent of the Doctor of Pharmacy programme in Ghana, the scope of pharmacy practice should be expanded. Pharmacists’ medication expertise should be leveraged in vaccine development and clinical trials. Pharmacists may also be trained to perform basic routine screening services,” Mr Botwe explained.); and
- Urge the public to have a “personal pharmacist”, utilising the expertise of pharmacists in community pharmacists as much as possible.
Due to COVID-19 constraints, there was no face-to-face community engagement in public health education campaigns on rational medicines use and the role of the pharmacist, but media engagement was strong, with interviews and appearances on health talk shows continuing for over a week. “We get strong media coverage because we secure support from our minister of health and we plan the launch in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. A press release, as well as invitations to journalists and radio and television stations to the ceremony and offers of interviews, are fundamental to this achievement,” Mr Botwe said.
He added: “My advice for other FIP member organisations in organising WPD activities is to put a committee together to plan the events and media coverage for the events. Pharmacist practitioners in various practice settings should be involved and adapt the celebration and related activities to their practice areas. Indeed, in Ghana, pharmacists in community, hospital and industrial practice highlighted their roles in transforming global health last year,” Mr Botwe said.
This year, the PSGH will be using WPD to broadcast vital messages related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, leveraging the trust society has in pharmacy, to focus on themes of pandemic fatigue and vaccine hesitancy. “Despite the emergence of more virulent strains of the virus, people feel demotivated about following recommended behaviours to protect themselves and others from the virus. Pandemic fatigue has evolved gradually over time and is affected by the cultural, social, structural and legislative environment. In addition, fears regarding safety and credibility of vaccines, arising out of many myths and unfounded conspiracy theories, can stifle efforts to promote vaccination as the surest way to end the COVID-19 pandemic and to tackle other vaccine-preventable diseases,” Mr Botwe said.
He concluded: “WPD and World Pharmacy Week are laudable initiatives, affording the PSGH and pharmacists in Ghana the opportunity to showcase the profession of pharmacy and its contribution to health care for the benefit of mankind.”
South East Asian region: Competitions motivate engagement and increase awareness
The Indian Pharmaceutical Association (IPA) has been a strong supporter and promoter of WPD for several years. Last year, due to COVID-19, its campaign was taken online, IPA vice president Manjiri Gharat explained, and among the activities were three competitions targeting faculties, practising pharmacists and students. “Based on FIP’s 2020 WPD theme, we asked students to make video/PowerPoint presentations and faculties to write an article about how they can contribute to improving pharmacy practice in our country,” she told IPJ. The competitions were launched a month before and the results announced on WPD. “We had a huge response to all three competitions across India. The best part of the competition is that we can reach across India with the WPD message — news about the winners goes everywhere and it benefits the profession with the visibility and awareness created. The awards and recognition are incentives to take part and winners’ videos were placed on our website and social media,” she said.
For colleagues around the world considering marking WPD 2021 with a competition, Ms Gharat’s advice is: “Start now. Think and make your plan in order to give people enough time to prepare and submit their entries, for their entries to be evaluated and announcement of winners to be prepared. The topic of the competition stimulates thinking. It’s an opportunity to motivate people to work for the profession and to create contributors and to let people know about your association, FIP and the theme.”
Ms Gharat believes that WPD provides the “biggest opportunity for pharmacists to celebrate, to honour pharmacists for what they’re doing for health care, to show our pride and to create awareness with the public and other stakeholders, including government”, adding that it’s also a great opportunity to write for newspapers and get interviews into other media. Those who wish to mark WPD are supported by the IPA’s list of ideas, which it gives to its members to stimulate thinking on what they can do, from sharing FIP articles to organising rallies in rural areas. She said that the IPA welcomed the first World Pharmacy Week last year: “It’s an excellent idea to have a whole week to have events going on. There are so many dimensions to our profession that a week allows it to be showcased well. In India, we also have a national pharmacy week celebrated in November (a wonderful tradition started by IPA forefathers six decades ago) and we’re now thinking if we can align this to World Pharmacy Week.”
The IPA’s plans for this year include an online panel discussion on the theme [of trust]. The panel will be interprofessional, bringing together nurses, doctors, dentists and regulators. There will again be competitions based on the theme, but the IPA is still discussing whether it will ask practising pharmacists to take part, since they have been so busy with COVID-19. “This year, our competition will revolve around storytelling, asking people to tell us in a video or write-up how they’ve contributed — what they’ve done, how they’ve helped people — during COVID. We’ll give everyone a certificate of appreciation and select some for an award.”
On this year’s theme, Ms Gharat said she thought it was very timely. “As everyone knows, there’s a lot of misinformation now. Pharmacists are at the forefront and trusted by their communities. Even in India, where practice is not very evolved, our pharmacists have answered so many questions on vaccines hesitancy and are supporting people,” she said. Aligned with this theme and FIP Development Goals 20 (Digital health) and 15 (People-centred care), the IPA is also starting webinar series on “Go digital”, focusing on the use of digital health tools to increase connection with patients and reimagining the future of pharmacy.
Next month, the IPJ will report on WPD activities in the regions of the Eastern Mediterranean, Western Pacific and Americas.