“Tanzania has a severe shortage of well-trained healthcare staff”

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Sartorius supports pharmaceutical training in Tanzania © Deutsches Medikamenten-Hilfswerk action medeor e.V.
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Sartorius supports pharmaceutical training in Tanzania © Deutsches Medikamenten-Hilfswerk action medeor e.V.
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Sartorius supports pharmaceutical training in Tanzania © Deutsches Medikamenten-Hilfswerk action medeor e.V.
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Dr. Irmgard Buchkremer-Ratzmann © Deutsches Medikamenten-Hilfswerk action medeor e.V.

As part of its initiative Christmas Donations Instead of Gifts, Sartorius is supporting an aid project to improve pharmaceutical training in Tanzania. In 2020, the company’s donation was given to action medeor, the European medical aid organization. In an interview, Dr. Irmgard Buchkremer-Ratzmann, Head of the Department of Medicines and Pharmacy and Project Head for Tanzania at action medeor, describes where the challenges of supplying medicines lie and how non-academic pharmaceutical specialists are to be deployed to strengthen the health care infrastructure in Tanzania.

This article is posted on Sartorius Blog.

Dr. Irmgard Buchkremer-Ratzmann, what exactly does action medeor do?

As the world’s emergency pharmacy, action medeor is committed to ensuring that everyone has access to adequate health care, regardless of their origin or their economic, geographic and social circumstances.

For around 50 years, we have been ensuring that medicines reach the places where they are most needed. In 2020, we supplied medications, medical technology and consumables to 73 countries. Since 2009, we have also been supporting pharmaceutical training and providing expert advice on the production and analysis of medicines, for example, in the East African community, Nepal and Ghana. This involves maintaining an efficient supply chain, i.e., where and how much do I order, and additionally the qualification and storage of the supplies. Health depends on medicines - we aim to ensure that the quality is right.

Can you tell us more about the training?

Of course! We are responsible for a Master’s study program, among other educational projects, at the Ruanda University in Kigali, where our pharmaceutical specialists work as lecturers. At the Muhimbili University in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, we support the training and research laboratory as well as individual Master’s degree students. In both cases, our support is about educating students and additionally providing medical emergency courses for nurses as often nobody else takes care of the work involved in ensuring the availability of the medications needed.

Sartorius supports pharmaceutical training in Tanzania © Deutsches Medikamenten-Hilfswerk action medeor e.V.

Where do the challenges lie in your work?

The coronavirus pandemic is a prime example: If a vaccine is needed, it must be available exactly where it is needed, in the right quality, on time, and at a reasonable price. These criteria apply to all medicines, of course. Planning in developing countries often runs over a longer period than in industrialized countries, where a drug ordered can often be picked up from the pharmacy on the same day.

And specifically, what are the challenges you face in your project in Tanzania?

Tanzania has a severe shortage of well-trained health care staff, including pharmaceutical professionals. There is no comprehensively reliable supply chain for medicines, and poor-quality medical drugs are often on the market. Medical care also faces strong competition from traditional healers.

In Tanzania, pharmacists are responsible for ordering supplies using computer systems, lists or Excel spreadsheets. Aspects such as climate or consumption peaks at certain times must also be taken into account. Good pharmaceutical training is essential for this. Overall, Tanzania occupies a middle position among developing countries, i.e., it has good approaches, but these are not yet represented on a widespread basis.

What is your approach?

To ensure better medical care and improved access to high-quality medications, the health infrastructure must be strengthened on the whole. Professional pharmacy training plays a key role in this effort. In the project financially supported by Sartorius, we aim to further improve pharmaceutical education with various partners such as schools for pharmaceutical technical assistants, the Tanzanian Ministry of Health and regulatory authorities.

For this reason, we - together with the local authorities - have developed an advanced training curriculum that is meanwhile used in a standardized manner in all 22 active schools of the country. We also participated in writing teacher’s guides and set up libraries. E-learning is ready to launch for parts of the pharmaceutical curriculum as it is especially important for more remote areas. This is something we are proud of.  

Are there other projects, too?

Yes. Moreover, we are renovating a public Pharmaceutical-Technical Institute for pharmaceutical training, abbreviated as a PTI, and providing it with laboratory equipment. This PTI is located in the remote region of Mpanda, where there is no through road leading to it. The construction work is being financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and Sartorius is providing financial support for furnishing the new training room, including supplying it with laboratory equipment, as well as setting up a library. This is intended to create better access to pharmaceutical training, especially in rural area.

Why is this project a success?

We have been able to build trust, also thanks to our Tanzanian partners, and have created a curriculum that is accredited and can be extended to other countries. And we were also able to support a disadvantaged region. There are 8,954 students in training at the 22 cooperating schools nationwide. The PTI technical school in Mpanda will add another 150 students in the future. We hope that the young people will stay in the region after completing their training there in order to ensure that health care is provided locally. There are already considerations to transfer this project to other, poorer countries.

Thank you for this interview.

© Deutsches Medikamenten-Hilfswerk action medeor e.V.

About action medeor

The medical aid organization action medeor is a charitable NGO that is financed by donations and provides humanitarian aid, as well as strengthens health care structures worldwide. On the whole, action medeor has more than 110 employees in Germany, Tanzania and Malawi. Projects are always carried out with local partners. The non-governmental organization procures medications, laboratory equipment and consumables that are provided either at cost or as donations to needy countries. In Tanzania, action medeor has 23 employees in three locations and a number of partnerships. The project team based in the country is comprised of a medical doctor, a pharmacist and a financial expert.