By Surihe Gaomas
Namibia is facing a critical shortage of trained pharmacists. It turns out that while many local students are not interested in taking up this profession as a career, positions are being filled by foreigners.
Statistics from the Ministry of Health and Social Services show that in the public sector only 5 of the 48 posts for pharmacists in the health ministry are occupied by Namibians, while the rest are non-Namibians working on either contract or are funded by development partners.
The health ministry has so far taken in only five pharmacist interns this year.
At the same time the private sector is also experiencing a severe shortage of pharmacists, while many seek greener pastures in countries like Australia and Canada.
It is against this background that health authorities urge more students to seriously look into a career in pharmacy.
The call also comes well in line with the recently launched National Pharmacy Week 2007 geared towards creating more public awareness about the importance of this medical profession.
“I would like to take this opportunity to actively encourage students who are considering which career path to follow, to seriously look at pharmacy.
Pharmacy has a critical role to play in health care services and Namibia is suffering from a shortage of trained pharmacists,” said Permanent Secretary of Health and Social Services, Kahijoro Kahuure, when he officially launched Pharmacy Week on Tuesday.
For many years the profession of pharmacy has been perceived as uninteresting, where a pharmacist is only seen as someone who gives medication to patients when they walk into a pharmacy.
However, Chief Pharmacist of National Medicines Policy Co-ordination at the Ministry of Health and Social Services Jennie Lates said there is much value in this medical profession.
“People don’t really know what a pharmacist is and it’s not only about standing behind the counter and handing over medicines. They also give counselling and make sure that the client gets the correct message and advice on how to use it,” said Lates.
Yet when talking to young students it appears that pharmacy is seen as “a dying profession” and many of them get cold feet to even venture into this career pathway in the first place.
‘Maths and science subjects are just too difficult, so I will rather go for an easy degree. Why should I go the hard way, I don’t want to fail at the end of the day,’ is a fair summary of some of the comments from students.
Furthermore the standard of science and mathematics in the country is said to be discouraging as many learners fail to excel in these subjects critical for a pharmacy profession.
It becomes apparent that since Namibia does not have its own pharmacy school those who are interested study at universities that offer a four-year degree course in South Africa.
Yet having to cough up N$60 000 a year can be painstaking for parents and students alike.
On its part the Pharmaceutical Society of Namibia is requesting private investors to help pay for students’ fees.
“There is a critical shortage of financial assistance for these students. But a pharmacist is the first contact point for patients,” said Secretary of the Pharmaceutical Society of Namibia Karin Brockmann in an interview with New Era.
Foreign pharmacists working in Namibia are mostly from all over the African continent like Nigeria, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Kenya. Tanzania, Zambia, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda.
However, in an effort to nurture the country’s own crop of pharmacists the University of Namibia in consultation with the health ministry has for the past three to four years been running a Pre-Medical and Pre-Pharmacy Training degree programme through the Faculty of Medicine and Health.
Upon obtaining a certain level through this programme students are sent for further studies in South Africa.
General admission requirements at Unam are that candidates must have a Grade C in IGCSE or its equivalent in Mathematics, Biology and Physical Science.
The faculty is mandated to prepare professionals and nurses for the country’s health sector.