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Malaria Elimination: Low Awareness of Available Testing at Pharmacies at Local Level

Malaria Elimination, Community Pharmacist
Mr. Owusu Antwi,

By Nicholas Osei-Wusu

One of the key strategic interventions by the National Malaria Elimination Programme to get rid of malaria in Ghana is the triple ‘T’ which mandates healthcare facilities to ‘Test, Treat and Track’ malaria cases reported to them.

Under this initiative, persons who complain of malaria or show signs of the disease must be ‘Tested’ first before any treatment could be started to avoid misdiagnosis of the sickness. 

According to the National Malaria Elimination Programme, privately-run pharmacies have been supported to provide this service at the community level. 

However, an opinion sampling in parts of Kumasi by GBC News has revealed a very low level of awareness among members of the public about the availability of this intervention.

This survey by GBC’s Ashanti Regional Correspondent, Nicholas Osei-Wusu, has also shown that not only are members of the public eager to access this intervention but also want the Rapid Diagnostic Test, RDT kits made available for purchase for home use, just as in the case of pregnancy test kits, even though pharmacists have reservations about this call.

The opinion polls in parts of the Ashanti regional capital of Kumasi confirmed that, there is a high level of public knowledge about the symptoms associated with malaria, mainly due to personal experiences.

It also came out clearly that most of the people who show one symptom or another of the disease moistly resort to either a pharmacy or licensed over-the-counter chemical store within their locality for treatment for two reasons one of which is to avoid the cost and delays in visiting the hospital or clinic. 

Some of the respondents in the sampling shared their personal experiences with GBCNews.

“Usually for about 2, 3, days and when I still feel that body pains and joint pains and a warm temperature, I go to the drug store and tell them I have malaria ‘cos I know it’s malaria. So when I go to the drug store, I only ask for a particular medicine”, Clement Osew explained.

On his part, Yakubu Seidu narrated, “at a point I was experiencing joint pains, headache, cold and a general body weakness. When I went to the pharmacy, I explained my condition to them and told them that this is what I go through when I get malaria. So they gave me medicine to buy.”

The National Malaria Elimination Programme, NMEP, the lead entity in the agenda against the disease, has explained that the plasmodium falciparum parasite which is transmitted through the bite of an infected female anopheles mosquito, stays in the bloodstream and if not detected early for treatment, multiplies to cause severe malaria with various complications including death with children under five years and pregnant women being at the highest risk. 

Therefore, making testing the first protocol at both the hospital or pharmacy using either the microscope or Rapid Diagnostic Test, RDT kits, is to properly diagnose the disease. The RDT kit with features similar to the pregnancy test kits, provides a near-instant result of a person’s malaria status. 

It came out during the survey that, indeed, the ‘Test’ for malaria is available at some of the local pharmacies. 

On the contrary, many members of the public are unaware of it.

But upon hearing of the availability of this intervention, most of the respondents embraced the service and even asked policymakers to ensure that the RDT kits are available for procurement for home use, just as the case is with the pregnancy test kits.

“It’s a laudable idea ‘cos if you do test and you realize that you’re positive, then you can take the necessary steps either you go to the pharmacy for the drugs or eventually visit the hospital”, Nana Adwoa suggested.

“Let it be available and affordable like paracetamol in the pharmacy so that whoever can afford can go for it. If it is available at home, people could even test even when they’re not yet showing the symptoms”, another respondent also suggested.  

Incidentally, this suggestion does not find favour with pharmacists such as the Superintendent Pharmacist at Elim Pharmacy, Owusu Antwi, who is a Community Pharmacist by profession, noted “There are some that come in a pack, so you’ve got to use one reagent for a couple of patients. That you may not be able to use at home. But there’re for single use that can be used at home.”

“It’s not advisable to give to somebody to use at home. It won’t help neither will it benefit the person ‘cos it requires training to use”,
Madam Felicity Nkrumah, a Pharmacy Technician at the Walendon Pharmacy at Buokrom cautioned.

During a recent webinar interaction with members of the National Malaria Media Coalition, an epidemiologist with the NMEP, Dr. Kofi Adomako, said that in the meantime, members of the public must access the service at the pharmacies in their localities.

He, however, chastised some of the pharmacies benefiting from the RDT kits support to be sincere in accounting for the assistance to ensure the sustenance of the intervention.

But one thing remains for sure, with increased public awareness, members of the public, desirous of avoiding the challenges inherent in visiting the hospital or clinic, the interest in patronizing the ‘Testing’ protocol in malaria diagnosis remains considerably high. 

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