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Poor warehousing practices and its impact on medicines quality in Africa

Medicine Security in Africa: Advancing towards equitable access to medicines for all

A third of the world’s population – a large proportion being in Africa – cannot access essential medicines which are vital for the delivery of quality health services. Major factors driving this medicine deficiency include poor management practices and unsuitable storage conditions for medicines, as well as poor storage infrastructure. As a result, medicine stock damage, expiration and theft are common occurrences and lead to shortages or stock-outs in health facilities.

Warehousing in pharmaceuticals plays a pivotal role in manufacturing of quality medicines. It is critical to ensure the safety and quality of raw materials, packaging components, and finished products. In medical supply systems, good warehousing practices ensure that medicines are kept safe and without damage at any point in the medicine supply chain. Biopharmaceutical products typically have temperature-sensitive active ingredients that break down or degrade if exposed to heat or light, thus becoming ineffective. Pharmaceutical warehousing must therefore guarantee that the quality of pharmaceutical products- defined as one that is pure, correctly identified, effective and safe to use- is maintained and not adversely affected by light, humidity, ventilation, temperature, and sanitation conditions.

Unfortunately, in Africa, medicine supply chains continue to face significant challenges that compromise access and availability of quality medicines for a vast majority of the population. Optimal warehousing facilities for the storage of medicines are insufficient, and where available, inadequate storage conditions and poor warehousing practices often lead to medicines being damaged or stolen. African governments, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and other key stakeholders across the medicine supply chain must therefore implement effective strategies to address the challenges of poor warehousing as an essential component for achieving medicine security in Africa.

How warehousing practices affect medicine quality

Pharmaceuticals warehouse is responsible for receiving, storing, and releasing of raw materials (including labelling and packaging) as well as storing, releasing and distribution of finished products. Once a finished medicine or medical product is received by the warehouse, it does not undergo further quality control tests. If the medicine is degraded or damaged at this point, it would most likely result in poor quality medicine being given to the patient. The pharmaceutical warehouse must therefore rely upon procedures and well-trained staff to ensure that products are delivered to patients safely and with the same quality as when they left manufacturing.

Although the challenges confronting Africa’s medicine supply chains are multifaceted, improving pharmaceutical warehousing practices can contribute significantly to increasing availability of high-quality pharmaceutical products

The warehouse must be expertly managed and run in compliance in order to protect and distribute quality products. Some of these compliant practices include control over receiving goods, quality control, storing materials, components and products, fulfilling picking requests and shipping the product to the marketplace. These practices must be completely documented and traceable in order to protect the integrity and stability of the product and its packaging.

Read also: How AI will change the face of healthcare

Strategies to improve pharmaceutical warehousing in Africa

Although the challenges confronting Africa’s medicine supply chains are multifaceted, improving pharmaceutical warehousing practices can contribute significantly to increasing availability of high-quality pharmaceutical products. This could mean averting thousands of preventable deaths — like the loss of life linked to blood-loss during childbirth, or of children succumbing to diarrheal diseases.

Bloom Public Health recommends the following as key strategies to improve pharmaceutical warehousing practices in Africa:

1. Compliance with GMP standards: GMP for warehousing incorporates practices, rules, and regulations spanning Good Warehousing Practices (GWP) and Good Distribution Practices (GDP). GWP refers to the practices specifically within the pharmaceutical warehouse, while GDP refers to the transport and distribution of the product. These regulations recognise that product quality can be significantly impacted after manufacturing and packaging has taken place.

By complying with GMP rules for warehousing, African pharmaceutical manufacturers can protect medicines from damage during storage and transport; prevent degradation of the product by exposure to adverse temperature conditions; avoid mix-ups and contamination by other materials; maintain product identity and traceability; and prevent expired or damaged products from being used.

2. Strengthening personnel capacity through training: Warehouse personnel are critical for the successful implementation of GMP standards. Training is therefore necessary to ensure that warehouse personnel are skilled in specific functions, including applying the GWP and GDP rules. They should also be trained in SOPs applicable to the warehouse’s operation.

Some specific skills required by warehouse personnel include interpreting environmental monitoring displays; conducting stock takes and maintaining inventory records, accurately locating and selecting the right stock from pick lists and orders on a first-in, first-out basis, etc.

3. Increasing investment in warehousing infrastructure: African governments need to invest more in building modern warehousing facilities that are well equipped with adequate layout, cold-chain infrastructure, and operational equipment — forklifts, racks, shelves, and others. Warehousing facilities should also have smoke detection systems and mechanisms to ensure safety against fires, as well as modern incinerators and waste treatment systems. African governments should explore public-private partnerships and partnerships with international funders to raise funds for such capital-intensive projects.

In conclusion, pharmaceutical warehousing plays a vital role in ensuring that individuals can access quality medicines that are safe, effective, affordable, adequate, and available at the right time and in appropriate doses. Concerted efforts are therefore required to ensure that pharmaceutical warehouses in Africa have adequate warehousing infrastructure, optimal storage conditions, and well-trained personnel to guarantee quality pharmaceutical products.