Roles and challenges of pharmacists during Covid-19

The world’s biggest trial of possible treatments for Covid-19 is currently underway. FILE PHOTO Bloomberg photo by Daniel Acker

The world’s biggest trial of possible treatments for Covid-19 is currently underway. FILE PHOTO Bloomberg photo by Daniel Acker

Published Jun 27, 2020



While there were many uncertainties about the Covid-19 global pandemic and the imposed national lockdown, South African pharmacists have been hard at work behind the scenes preparing treatment medicines for the country.

The numbers have risen rapidly with the infection rate at 118 375 and 2 292 deaths into day 92 of the lockdown period.

Director of Affordable Medicines National Department of Health, Khadija Jamalodien said during a webinar hosted by the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) and AstraZeneca, that the role of the pharmacists has been pivotal in the fight against Covid-19.

“In South Africa, we’ve played an integral role at every level in terms of the development of evidence-based treatment, guidelines and the essential treatment medicines list,” said Jamalodien.

“What we have done at the start of the pandemic was to identify medicines that would be particularly needed in the management of Covid-19. We created a priority list to make sure that we had enough medicine to manage our patients when they do present in hospitals,” she said.

At the start of the pandemic, the patient numbers were minimal and suddenly there was a surge in the infections and fatalities.

As the country moves into its peak, they’ve used a method called the ‘transmissibility rate’ to predict what they think they’re likely to see in the portions of patients.

“We look into how the patients would present, whether it’s severe cases or non-severe and how many are likely to end up in hospital.

“And for those who end up in hospital, how many would end up in ICU.

“Using that model, we’ve attached it to our population numbers to try to predict how many patients we’re likely to see in hospitals to ensure we have the medicines available,” said Jamalodien.

The role of the pharmacist has not been easy and has come with a number of challenges with a big wake up call coming when a number of staff tested positive at a major hospital.


“More concerning is the resource constraints because you only have a fixed number of resources and to stretch that becomes a big challenge.

“Another challenge we have are facing is constraining the demand based on the hospital bed capacity because the reality is that we are not going to have enough beds to cater for all the patients we are likely to see based on the forecast,” said Jamalodien.

“In South Africa, we also have inadequate storage capacity in health facilities. At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic the minister gave us a directive to stockpile some of the medicines and it becomes very difficult when you don’t have the space to store it.

“This can also lead to overstocking which means stock could get written off in the case of expiry,” she said.

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