x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

A quarter of pharmacies unsafe, says Haad

The Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (Haad) discovered almost 15,000 offences at about 650 pharmacies, ranging from selling out-of-date medications to not having a licensed pharmacist available.

A quarter of all pharmacies inspected by health officials in the capital last year were given the lowest grade in a wide-ranging audit.

The Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (Haad) discovered almost 15,000 offences at about 650 pharmacies, ranging from selling out-of-date medications to not having a licensed pharmacist available.

Only 6 per cent were graded as excellent, while 26 per cent were given a D ranking. The remaining were ranked between A and C.

In light of the poor results, the health authority has announced a new ranking system to help raise standards and make the industry safer. The results will be made public online, allowing consumers to make more educated decisions about where they seek advice and medication. Officials hope the initiative - titled Jawda (quality in Arabic) - will be implemented by the end of the year.

As well as helping people make more informed decisions, it will create a more competitive market, said Dr Mohammed Bader Al Seiari, director of the health system compliance division at Haad.

"If I was to tell you the nearest pharmacy to you was one of the worst in the market, would you continue to purchase medicine there? You would leave directly. It is all about quality."

Presented with a clear grade, which will be visible to whoever enters a pharmacy, people will soon be able to make an informed decision based on a set of standard rules and regulations, he said.

"The question is, if you would like to go to a pharmacy in Abu Dhabi, how would you define that pharmacy to be the most suitable one for your needs?

"The answer is, everyone has a different way of choosing their pharmacy, whether through experience or if they heard something from somebody, but there is never a major factor."

Efforts have been made in recent years in the capital to reduce the number of over-the-counter medicines, particularly antibiotics.

"I appreciate this initiative, because it will limit addiction to drugs," said Dr Kopha Fridhar, the chief pharmacist at New Medical Centre. "The rules and regulations will help because it will stop people taking antibiotics regularly, after buying them without a prescription."

The system will act as a good "control", said Dr Lamya El Barasi, the chief pharmacist at Al Noor Hospital.

Ten per cent of cases received by the Poison and Drug Information Centre every year are the result of misuse of over-the-counter medicines.

People will take note of the rankings, said Dr El Barasi, but it will be hard for some facilities to adjust. "Not all the pharmacies can match up to the standards," she said.

But naming - and in some cases, shaming - the facilities will "stimulate" the pharmacies to compete in a healthy manner, said Dr Usama Abu-Shaban, the section head of Health Audit-Pharmaceutical Facilities.

"We want to raise the overall quality of standards by ... promoting a positive competition atmosphere. By doing that we will be promoting excellence in pharmaceutical care."

Each facility in Abu Dhabi, will be audited three times a year, with those in Al Ain and the Western Region subject to audits twice a year.

The public are also being encouraged to report any offences they notice to Haad, said Dr Al Seiari.

Pharmacies attached to or inside hospitals will be audited differently to separate facilities, although grades will remain the same.

The audits, which will be carried out without prior notice, will check that facilities are adhering to a wide range of rules and regulations, he added.

"For example, we need to look at communication - pharmacists need to communicate with the customer in terms of what medication is going to be used, why it is being prescribed, and how often it should be taken."