North-West University is lifting Southern Africa’s health profile

North-West University pharmacoepidemiology

North-West University pharmacoepidemiology

Published Jul 14, 2023


Author: Bertie Jacobs

There are words that tie the tongue in knots. They confound learned abilities; they separate the novice from the expert at spelling bees. They even change lives.

At the North-West University (NWU), one of them is ‘pharmacoepidemiology’, and it’s a field that is enriching the health of southern Africa’s population.

First, let’s define the term. Pharmacoepidemiology is the study of how medications are used and their effects on large populations, helping to understand the benefits, risks, and patterns of drug use in real-world settings.

The importance thereof in an African context cannot be understated, especially concerning this region’s epidemiology, which is the science of understanding how what we are exposed to and what we do, affect the overall health of a society.

The African region has a unique epidemiology with increasingly high rates of infectious and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and mental health disorders. Healthcare systems are fragmented. Public health facilities across African countries are largely in poor condition, with a lack of infrastructure for effective healthcare delivery, and a general lack of drug information systems.

African countries face varying challenges relating to access to medicines, costs, drug effectiveness, morbidity patterns and rational prescribing,” explains Prof Johanita Burger from the NWU’s research entity Medicine Usage in South Africa (MUSA) at its Faculty of Health Sciences.

Burger’s research activities focus on pharmacoepidemiology, drug utilisation research and pharmacoeconomics, which are disciplines that delve into the utilisation, effects, costs and outcomes of medicines in real-world populations. This provides valuable evidence that reflects the complexities and diversity of the healthcare landscape.

Burger: “Africa is facing a double burden of infectious and chronic diseases, necessitating the need to ensure everyone has access to appropriate medications. The continent, however, is challenged by several obstacles in ensuring access to medications, among others, excessive reliance on foreign countries for medicines, circulation of fake and counterfeit medications, a limited healthcare workforce, absence of sustainable health financing mechanisms, inadequate infrastructure and technical expertise, and insufficient investment in research and development.”

One of the ways the NWU is addressing this is through its commitment to achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of which SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being) is especially relevant in this context. SDG-3 aims to ensure healthy lives and the promotion of well-being for all at all ages.

MUSA has established itself as a crucial role player in creating a sustainable and safe environment for the use of medicine to positively impact the health profile of the Southern African community.

Burger explains that one way of facilitating a turnaround in the health fortunes of the region is by identifying, promoting and securing new avenues to medicinal resources. “We need to prioritise efforts and initiatives to strengthen access to medicines, infrastructure and health systems.”

By conducting relevant and high-quality research on the appropriate use of medicine in public and private healthcare sectors in Southern Africa and by building the capacity of resources in the safe use of medicine through collaborative partnerships and empowerment, MUSA is making significant inroads in aiding accessibility to quality medicine.

MUSA also aims to advance the knowledge of relevant target groups through the delivery of innovative products and solutions.

Its pronunciation might be puzzling and phonetically, it is challenging, but there is no doubt that ‘pharmacoepidemiology’ should form part of every medicinal conversation that searches for sustainable solutions. In one word, it is a ‘wonder’.