THE presence of substandard and counterfeit products and limited access to affordable and quality medicines continue to be a major challenge to universal health coverage in low and middle-income countries, including Tanzania.
This was a shared concern by health experts from the European Union (EU) and the coalition of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of nations and WHO, who have convened in Zanzibar to take stock of the progress made by a joint five-year programme to strengthen pharmaceutical systems and access to quality medicines in 15 ACP countries.
Speaking on the opening day, the delegates highlighted a myriad of health challenges relating to access to quality medicines, while stressing the significance of tackling them in order to achieve the objective of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and ensure functional and strengthened health systems.
EU representative, Mr Gregoire Lacoin, in his remarks noted that access to affordable and quality medicines remains a major challenge in health policy for a number of countries, most notably developing nations.
" ... limited availability ... high prices and the significant share of false, substandard or counterfeit products and the associated health threat that they represent, is still a reality. Strengthened medicines control structures and regulatory bodies are needed to improve this situation," charged Mr Lacoin.
He added: "... these challenges must be addressed comprehensively ... through long term and sustainable engagement, in order to achieve the objective of UHC and ensure functional and strengthened health systems," he added.
The EU representative pointed to adequate funding, policies on training and retaining human resources for health and access to quality and affordable products, as areas that should be given priority to improve the situation.
Dr Ghirmay Andemichael, Liaison Officer at WHO suboffice in Zanzibar said that to achieve universal health coverage countries need to ensure there is access to quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.
"Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages will require strong national pharmaceutical systems in governance and accountability, innovation, manufacturing and trade, pricing and affordability, quality assurance and responsible use of medicines," noted Dr Andemichael.
According to WHO, Barriers to accessing quality medicines in African countries are tied to resource constraints in the health sector, insufficient skilled staff, weak implementation of pharmaceutical policies and poorly managed supply chains.
The WHO Liaison officer, Mr Andemichael, said to address the challenges, a stronger partnership and collaboration is required with commitment for human and financial resources from government, private sector and development partners.
He added that the national medicines policy should ensure an uninterrupted supply of essential medicines that are efficacious and of good quality and are physically and financially accessible to all and which are used rationally.
On her part, the guest of honour, Ms Asha Ali Abdullah, the Isles Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Health, acknowledged the need to strengthen health systems by increasing budgets and putting into consideration the well-being of health practitioners.
"A good health system requires a robust financing mechanism, a well trained and adequately paid workforce, reliable information on which to base decisions and policies, well maintained facilities and logistics to deliver quality medicines and technologies as well as appropriate governance and service delivery," said Ms Asha.
She said the EU/ACP/ WHO Renewed Partnership which is coming to an end, has been a key partner in addressing challenges within the pharmaceutical sector in Tanzania and Zanzibar.
"Zanzibar being an Island and 100 per cent depending on importation of medicines and medical supplies, it is very prone to substandard, falsified and counterfeit as well as unregistered medicines and health products circulating in the market," noted Ms Asha.
The EU/ACP/WHO Renewed Partnership was established in 2012 with 10 million euros seed funding to contribute to achieving the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and UHC.
Under the leadership of Ministries of Health, the 15 ACP countries benefit from WHO's strategic, technical and monitoring support to increase access to quality essential medicines by strengthening their pharmaceutical systems.