The Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA) has expressed concerns about the announcement that the public can collect their chronic medication from the South African Post Office.
In a statement, the non-profit organisation, which represents about 1 200 independently owned pharmacies, said medicines were not “normal” tradeable commodities.
“They are prescribed by authorised prescribers, usually a doctor, for a diagnosed, treatable condition in a patient. The medicine is then checked and dispensed by a pharmacist. Both healthcare professionals have years of training and were strictly regulated through statutory councils,” it said.
ICPA said it does not support the Post Office to be pick-up points for chronic medicines. There are 3 794 community pharmacies across South Africa, far over the 300 pick-up points put forward by the Post Office.
“It would be in the interests of public health to utilise the pharmacy infrastructure already in place and rather have the Post Office concentrate on improving their parcel distribution, which they are trained to do,” it said.
The non-profit organistion said medicines were stored, according to legislation, under prescribed storage conditions to ensure that they retain their effectiveness and have not deteriorated or been damaged in any way.
“Pharmacies store medicines on the shelf below 25°C or in the fridge between 2-8°C. They are protected from direct sunlight and extreme temperature changes, in a clean, safe environment free of any contaminates. Medicines are only handled by appropriately qualified people who are registered with the South African Pharmacy Council," the ICPA said.
The organisation said some of its concerns included that the Post Office staff were not appropriately trained or registered to handle medicines in a Post Office – that can only happen in a pharmacy recorded with the South African Pharmacy Council.
It said the Post Office would not have temperature control and warning systems to manage medicines at a constant temperature below 25°C or for fridge items such as insulins, between 2-8°C.
“There are no qualified healthcare professionals who can assist patients with queries or medicine-related problems at the Post Office,” the ICPA said.
Unfortunately, the Post Office has an extremely poor track record when dealing with normal items of post, the non-profit said.
“We have all seen the photographs of piles of parcels/letters lying for months at depots. We have probably all received post that was damaged, tampered with, pilfered, or arrived months after it was sent. The courier services have grown exponentially as people look for effective and safe ways of getting parcels from point A to point B. The Post Office is not trusted with our letters… how can we trust them with our lifesaving medicines?” it said.
The organisation said there were many research articles that highlighted the importance of face-to-face counselling sessions with a pharmacist, which sessions have led to a dramatic improvement in therapeutic outcomes and disease management.
"It is only under GPP compliant conditions that a patient can be sure that the medicine they are receiving has been appropriately stored, handled, and it remains effective. The expiry date on medicine only holds if it has been stored according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Inappropriately stored medicines can quickly degrade, and certain medicines can become toxic or corrosive when they expire," the ICPA said.
The group said there was about 5 to 25% of all chronic medicines dispensed through chronic management programmes were collected.
“Currently there is no mechanism for collection of uncollected medicines, and we are very concerned as to what will happen to these uncollected medicines as they start to accumulate at the Post Office. The Post Office is not a facility registered to store medicines, and they have no rules regarding the safe and responsible disposal of medicines. ICPA is worried that these uncollected medicines may find their way into the illegal medicine market. Medicine in untrained hands is a danger to society and we must ensure that this does not happen,” it said.