Medication without harm

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Medication without harm

Sunday, 18 September 2022 | HEALTH PIONEER

Medication without harm

On the World Patient Safety Day on September 17, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, highlights the urgent need to prevent avoidable injury and harm in health care systems, with a focus on ending unsafe medication practices and medication errors.

In addition to causing significant disability and death, unsafe medication practices and medication errors cost an estimated US$ 42 million across the world annually. In low- and middle-income countries – including in the WHO South-East Asia Region – patient harm due to unsafe care contributes to an estimated 134 million adverse events annually, resulting in around 2.6 million deaths. Unsafe medication practices and errors can occur at different stages of the medication use process and can result from weak medication systems and/or human factors such as fatigue, poor environmental conditions, or staff shortages.

Since 2015, the WHO South-East Asia Region has made targeted efforts to reduce unsafe medication practices and medication errors, with a focus on addressing counterfeit and substandard products, and enhancing patient safety and reporting systems. This is in line with the Region’s Strategy on Patient Safety 2016–2025, as well as its Flagship Priority on achieving universal health coverage, with the aim of ensuring access for all to safe, quality and affordable medicine.

Specific Region-wide attention continues to be paid to reducing medication-related harm in elderly patient care, intensive care, highly specialized or surgical care, and emergency medicine, where the majority of medication harm occurs.

Most countries of the Region now have in place national patient safety and/or quality strategies that are aligned with the Regional Strategy, as well as the new Global Patient Safety Action Plan 2021–2030. The Plan aims to advance policies, strategies and actions to eliminate all sources of avoidable risk and harm to patients and health workers.

The WHO continues to support countries of the Region to adopt a system-wide approach to promoting safe medication practices, with a focus on several priorities. First, supporting policy makers to establish patient safety incident reporting and learning systems, including systems to monitor and evaluate impact.

Second, empowering health care leaders and facility managers to develop and implement standard operating procedures for safe medication use, while at the same time increasing health worker training and adherence. Third, supporting health workers to stay up to date on safe medication practices, including by disseminating key resources such as the 5 moments for medication safety tool.

And fourth, encouraging both health professionals and patients to be aware of and act on WHO’s ‘Know. Check. Ask’ protocol, which aims to increase awareness of, and educate the public about, the importance of using medication safely.

Patient safety is everyone’s business. No one goes to a health facility to get sick; no one takes medication that they know to be substandard, counterfeit, inappropriate or injurious to their health. Improving and ensuring patient safety – including by reducing unsafe medication practices and errors – is a growing Regional and global challenge that together we must not just meet but overcome to achieve the Region’s eight Flagship Priorities, the Triple Billion targets and the health-related Sustainable Development Goals.

On World Patient Safety Day, WHO reiterates its commitment to achieving a Region and world in which no one is harmed in health care, and where every patient receives safe and respectful care, every time, everywhere.

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