Pharmacists’ important role in the Médecins Sans Frontières team

The 2011 RPS Conference opened on 11 September with a keynote presentation from Marc DuBois, executive director of Médecins Sans Frontières, an international humanitarian aid organisation that provides emergency medical relief to populations  in danger.

Mr Dubois explained that MSF provides help wherever it is needed, regardless of religion, ethnic origin or political affiliation. The organisation’s objectives are to preserve life, alleviate suffering and protect human dignity.

“We work in a challenging environment, and to overcome any challenge requires teamwork,” he said.

He told the conference that pharmacists have an important role in the MSF team. “We work in places where you can’t go down the street and buy your drugs,” he said, “and there are problems with fake drugs.” Another issue is that in developing countries, manufacturers do not always manufacture medicines to the same standard as they would in developed countries, so it is not always possible to be sure that drugs are of good quality. Pharmacists have a role in this area, because they can determine the quality of any medicines that are available for MSF to use.

Mr DuBois explained that it is difficult sometimes to import medicines into certain countries. MSF has a standard set of medicines it uses but not all of them are registered in all countries. Pharmacists help to alleviate these problems by arguing with authorities that the drugs available in their countries are not necessarily the best.

Pharmacists are also able to assist MSF in living up to its moral and legal responsibility to ensure that the drugs it uses in the places where it works are not less efficient or more toxic than those used in developed countries. Pharmacists can ensure that drugs, if purchased locally, meet this obligation.

In the field, pharmacists work with national health authorities and access medicines manufacturers and distributors. By doing this they help identify new sources of medicines and improve MSF’s drug supplies. They are also able to develop quality systems for medicines, define specifications for pharmaceutical products, validate local purchases, and quality assure MSF stock.

Concluding, Mr DuBois told the conference: “Teamwork can be used to overcome all the challenging obstacles before you. This is why teamwork is so important.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Pharmacists' important role in the Médecins Sans Frontières team;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2011.11083966

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