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Adaku Efuribe: COVID-19 treatment and the dangers of drug misuse in Nigeria

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Adaku Efuribe (Image credit: Adaku Efuribe)

Drug misuse is defined as the use of a substance for a purpose not consistent with legal or medical guidelines (WHO, 2006). It has a negative impact on health or functioning and may take the form of drug dependence, or be part of a wider spectrum of problematic or harmful behaviour (Department of Health, 2006).

At the moment there seems to be an increased risk of self-medication and drug misuse especially in countries where prescription only medicines could be bought without prescription. For instance, countries like Nigeria where some patent medicines dealers who are meant to sell GSL medicines end up dispensing pharmacy only medicines and prescription only medicines.

As soon as a new drug for managing COVID-19 is announced by mainstream media, people run off to the shops to buy these drugs, even people who have not tested positive for the coronavirus, indulge in self-medication in a bid to prevent contracting the virus.

I am worried about the recent announcement for Dexamethasone as a new drug for treating COVID 19. Information reaching me shows, following hours of announcing this drug by the media, some Nigerian resident has started trooping to their pharmacy, ‘chemist’ and illegal drug dealers to buy dexamethasone tablets.

Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid, it has high glucocorticoid activity, and it should not be used without the guidance of a clinician. According to the Electronic Medicines Compendium (EMC), depending on the dose and duration of therapy, adrenocortical insufficiency caused by glucocorticoid therapy can continue for several months and in individual cases more than a year after cessation of therapy.

Also Read: Lockdown Bozza: Developed to simplify the lockdown regulations in South Africa

Through immunosuppression, treatment with Dexamethasone can lead to an increased risk of bacterial, viral, parasitic, opportunistic and fungal infections. It can mask the symptoms of an existing or developing infection, thereby making a diagnosis more difficult. Latent infections, like tuberculosis or hepatitis B, can be reactivated.

Dexamethasone also has some side effects; the following side effects are common (occurring in greater than 30%) for patients taking dexamethasone:

· Increased appetite.

· Irritability.

· Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)

· Swelling in your ankles and feet (fluid retention)

· Heartburn.

· Muscle weakness.

· Impaired wound healing.

· Increased blood sugar levels

If only the media companies understood the fact that prescription only medicines could be bought without prescription in some countries, they would thread carefully and choose appropriate wording when announcing potential drugs for COVID-19 treatment.

It’s the duty of the Ministry of health and drug regulatory bodies of those countries where prescription medication could be bought in the market like sweets to continue to create awareness, educate the general public on the dangers of self-medication, drug misuse and drug abuse. They must not relent in their efforts of managing drug distribution/regulation.

My advice to people living in countries where you could buy prescription only medicines without prescription is this:

Do not run off to buy the latest drug announced for COVID-19 treatment.

This drug is a corticosteroid and should only be taken if prescribed by a clinician.

Please do not indulge in medication misuse and abuse. It could lead to adverse effects or even death

Author: Adaku Efuribe is a Clinical Pharmacist & Global consultant in Medicines Management

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AstraZeneca launches Africa Health Innovation Hub to increase access to healthcare

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AstraZeneca, a leading global pharmaceutical company, launched the Africa Health Innovation Hub today. This ground-breaking initiative highlights the company’s commitment to healthcare equity and fostering partnerships with a range of stakeholders, including governments, healthcare societies, academia, healthcare providers and patient advocacy groups, to better improve patient outcomes. Building on AstraZeneca’s work in Africa, the hub aims to use the latest science and technology to improve access to healthcare for patients on the continent. 

The Africa Health Innovation Hub is the latest in the global A. Catalyst Network, a connected array of over 20 hubs worldwide. This network seeks to tackle current healthcare challenges through collaborative innovation, promote affordable and equitable healthcare access, and amplify patient-centred innovation through strategic alliances within the healthcare ecosystem.  

Last year, AstraZeneca joined the WEF Edison Alliance, a public-private partnership that aims to improve the lives of 1 billion people through digital inclusion by 2025. The partnership reinforces our commitment to harnessing digital innovation to drive inclusion and equity across the healthcare ecosystem, therefore, will also be a strong facilitator of the Africa Hub.

Gagan Singh, Country President, African Cluster, AstraZeneca, stated, “AstraZeneca aims to strengthen and future-proof health systems across the whole patient journey, ensuring everyone has equitable and affordable access to the life-changing healthcare solutions they need, regardless of where they live. The launch of the Africa Health Innovation Hub is a significant step in our goal to unlock digital transformation and innovation in health across the continent, paving the way for patient-centric digital health solutions that leave no one behind. By working with partners across the continent, we are nurturing local talent and making quality health care more accessible for all.” 

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Partnering to bring our purpose to life

In Africa, two major new partnerships will form the backbone of the Hub in its initial phases:  

  • In South Africa, AstraZeneca is partnering with MEDSOL AI SOLUTIONS to help promote the use of AI in the detection of disease through a state-of-the-art Wi-Fi ultrasound probe that can detect breast cancer in seconds. The Melusi Breast AI rapid detection app will be rolled out in rural clinics to help in early detection of the disease, supported by a dedicated referral system so that women with positive detection of breast cancer can be offered a quicker turnaround time for therapeutic intervention. 

Dr Kathryn Malherbe (PhD), CEO & Founder of MedSol AI Solutions said, “Medsol AI is excited to be leading one of the inaugural projects of the Africa Innovation Hub, with support from AstraZeneca. Breast cancer is a devastating disease, with many women in our communities only able to access late-stage diagnoses. The Melusi Breast AI project will enable us to leverage technology and innovation to improve early diagnostic detection rates and patient outcomes in local clinics, ultimately saving lives.” 

  • In Kenya, the company is expanding an already successful collaboration with Tricog Health Limited. After a few years of piloting an AI technology that connects ACS patients to health professionals and route them to the appropriate facilities, enabling early cardio-renal complications to be addressed in India, the African hub aims to enhance early diagnosis and treatment of Heart Failure using Tricog’s InstaECG AI tools for rapid diagnosis, reducing mortality rates and improving quality of life. 

Dr. Charit Bhograj, CEO & Founder Tricog Health Limited added, “non-communicable diseases, including heart disease, are on the rise in Kenya and across Africa, and we know that the earlier these conditions are diagnosed, the better chance it is for patients to continue to live long healthy lives. By investing in digital health technology, the Africa Health Innovation Hub is enabling the use of advanced AI to screen and diagnose patients remotely, bringing high-quality health tools to people no matter where they live.”

Another partnership initiated last year and will officially form part of the Africa Health Innovation Hub is the Fuel Africa programme, launched by Futurize. This is the largest healthcare entrepreneurship programme on the continent, bringing together the brightest minds across universities in Sub-Saharan Africa to address some of Africa’s most pressing challenges in healthcare. For the second year in a row, AstraZeneca’s A. Catalyst Network partnered with Futurize to reinforce our strong commitment to fostering innovation in the continent by developing local talents.

Official kick off to AstraZeneca’s health innovation hub in Africa

The official launch event – which marked the launch of the hub and the kick off of the Medsol AI partnership – took place at the Daspoort Poli Clinic in Pretoria, South Africa, where healthcare practitioners were able to demonstrate the use of the Melusi Breast AI device in a community clinic setting, which is one of the first points of contact for clinical breast examinations and breast cancer screening for patients.

The Africa Health Innovation Hub will also invest in building local talent, promote policy change for cancer screening, close the gaps in healthcare access and improve the quality of life for patients in the African region, particularly in rural and underserved communities. These objectives are aligned with the four pillars of AstraZeneca’s A. Catalyst Network: Education and Awareness, Early Diagnosis and Referral, Connectivity and Technology, and Data Generation.

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aYo Zambia launches Family Cover in response to ‘overwhelming’ demand

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aYo Zambia CEO, Andrew Nkolola

microinsurer aYo Zambia has has just launched Family Cover, which allows Zambians to get hospital and life cover for themselves as well as their direct and extended families without filling in a single form. The new product will also see all premiums collected (and claims paid) via the MTN Mobile Money (MoMo) platform. Until now, aYo has offered hospital and life cover to individuals only through two insurance products, ‘Send with Care’ and ‘Recharge with Care’. But a growing market demand for insurance for the whole family prompted the company to create the new Family Cover product, which allows policy holders to add up to seven people, including themselves.

“As of today, we have had over 3.5 million customers purchase cover to protect themselves for hospitalisation in the event of illness or injury, or loss of life,” said aYo Zambia CEO Andrew Nkolola. “But many of our customers have been asking us: ‘How will we safeguard our children and families if something happens to them? We don’t want benefits only when something happens to us.’ We realised it was a huge gap in the market and have responded accordingly.”

As with aYo’s existing products, Family Cover customers must maintain active Mobile Money (MoMo) accounts to pay premiums and claim. This will allow them to insure up to three other family members per benefit, for a total of seven people. Family Cover allows policyholders to add extended family as well as direct relatives between the ages of 1 and 69.

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Customers can enrol family members by dialling the USSD code *296* and selecting the Family cover option to enrol and manage cover. As with ‘Send with Care’ and ‘Recharge with Care’, valid Family Cover claims are paid directly to the claimant’s mobile money wallet without any hassles.

aYo was recognised as the Most Innovative Ecommerce Product in Zambia by the Institute of Finance and Economics in October, and followed that up in November with three awards at the Pensions and Insurance Authority Industry awards: Microinsurance product of the year, Best Customer Centric Experience, and Product and Service Innovation of the Year.

“The market perception of insurance in general is changing. Today, every Zambian consumer can purchase insurance on the go, using their mobile phones. Offerings like Family Cover provide a much-needed social safety net that helps vulnerable people and particularly people with low incomes to stay afloat when the unexpected happens,” said Nkolola.

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mPharma acquires majority stake in HealthPlus

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mPharma, Africa’s leading patient-centered technology-driven healthcare company, has acquired the majority stake in HealthPlus, the leading pharmacy chain in Nigeria. mPharma and the former investor, Alta Semper, have signed an agreement leading to the acquisition of a majority stake in the HealthPlus Group.

According to the Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of mPharma, Gregory Rockson, the acquisition is in line with the company’s mission to build an Africa that is in good health by delivering life-changing healthcare services and drugs to improve health outcomes for patients. He stated that the acquisition of the HealthPlus Pharmacy chain by mPharma complements mPharma’s deep commitment to increasing patient access to affordable and quality healthcare in Nigeria.

“mPharma is deepening its long-standing commitment to Africa by reimagining primary healthcare in some of the most vulnerable communities on the continent. We continue to transform community pharmacies into primary care centers to provide affordable and accessible healthcare to all patients so they can live not just longer but healthier lives. We are optimistic about the future of healthcare for Nigerians through the acquisition of HealthPlus.”, said Rockson.

In her remarks on the acquisition, Afsane Jetha, Co-founder and CEO at Alta Semper Capital, said: “We are delighted about HealthPlus’ partnership with mPharma. We have a strong conviction in mPharma’s strategy of revolutionizing primary care across Africa and believe mPharma is the ideal steward for HealthPlus’s next chapter of growth. We believe mPharma’s vision is consistent with that of HealthPlus’s shareholders and employees, and we are enthusiastic to support the business through a relationship with mPharma going forward”.

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While mPharma plans to continue to keep and strengthen HealthPlus as Nigeria’s leading pharmacy brand in Nigeria, the acquisition will also provide expansion opportunities for mPharma within Nigeria and a platform to expand mPharma’s mutti pharmacy retail footprint across the continent through its fast-growing QualityRx program. Powered by mPharma’s proprietary Bloom software, HealthPlus will provide patients access to affordable primary care services within its pharmacies, in addition to affordable and quality medications it currently retails across 12 states in Nigeria. The HealthPlus pharmacy chain will also launch mutti®, mPharma’s health membership program, which will provide both existing and new customers with discounts, interest-free “heal-now-pay-later” plans, free health screenings, and other primary care services.

By combining HealthPlus pharmacies with mPharma’s growing portfolio of partner mutti pharmacies and GoodHealth shops (PPMVs),mPharma’s network will grow from 224 to over 320 health facilities in Nigeria and will provide care to more than 100,000 Nigerians each month.

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