New Pharmacy Training Program Helps Fight HIV/AIDS in South Africa

Dr. Ken Schafermeyer, Director of International Programs at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

This May, the St. Louis College of Pharmacy announced the start of an innovative partnership with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth, South Africa to develop and expand pharmacy training and provide better access to HIV/AIDS medication and treatments. Dr. Ken Schafermeyer, Director of International Programs at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, shares his insights on the program and its potential impact on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa.

According to a report from the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), South Africa has the highest burden of HIV/AIDS in the world, with 5.6 million people living with the virus and more than 400,000 newly infected annually. Through programs like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), some progress has been made to combat this epidemic, but several barriers still exist. One major challenge remains access to resources and HIV/AIDS health services—particularly access to qualified pharmaceutical services. There are not enough pharmacists or mid-level pharmacy technicians to serve the country’s current needs. Public hospitals and clinics suffer from a dearth of qualified health care personnel to treat and counsel HIV-positive patients.

This lack of resources inspired the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, through PEPFAR funding, to partner with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.  The partnership was initiated by and supported by the HIV/AIDS Twinning Center at the American International Health Alliance (AIHA), which creates partnerships between U.S. and African universities to improve services for people affected by HIV/AIDS.  We aim to help alleviate this problem and establish our school as a global leader in pharmacy education. Our Office of International Programs encourages students, faculty, and staff to participate in international service programs and international advanced pharmacy practice experiences in order to expand their education and make an impact in developing countries. We are enthused about working with NMMU because I have worked them previously and I knew they would be a great partner.

One of the goals of this partnership is to increase the number of mid-level pharmacy practitioners in South Africa. More well-trained technicians will improve access to prescription drugs and the quality of prescription services, especially for HIV/AIDS medication.

Due the shortages of both pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, most of these professionals in South Africa have to focus on the distribution process (i.e., procurement and dispending of prescription medications), and cannot spend as much time as they would like on clinical services, such as consulting, recommending therapy, and promoting positive health outcomes through rational and optimal use of pharmaceutical services.  Additionally, medications are often dispensed by nurses or other individuals who are not well-trained, often resulting in delays, errors, drug shortages, and other problems that can adversely affect patient outcomes. Increasing the number of well-trained pharmacy technicians will stretch limited funds, improve access and quality, and enable pharmacists expand their services beyond distributing medication. 

Our program intends to offer expanded education through a variety of practices focused on curricular issues and working with the faculty.  Specifically, we will be assisting with:

Through this effort, we aim to improve access to medications and other quality services to decrease the incidence and prevalence of HIV/AIDS and ultimately achieve an AIDS-free generation. We hope this program can become a model for other schools in southern Africa and that we can continue to partner with NMMU and other schools in the region. 

Dr. Ken Schafermeyer is Director of International Programs at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy in St. Louis, Missouri.