After three years of dealing with COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) finally declared the end of the pandemic, but the struggles of the healthcare system are far from over. In fact, the pandemic revealed the stresses and the gaps of the healthcare system, especially in developing countries like the Philippines.
According to the UP National Health Institute, six out 10 sick Filipinos die without seeing a doctor. The study emphasizes that Filipinos shoulder unforeseen health expenses out-of-pocket, driving many into poverty due to lack of resources and means to cover for costs. Just in 2021, the Philippine Statistics (PSA) reported that every Filipino spent nearly P10,000 a year for health-related goods and services.
While access to proper healthcare in the Philippines is a continuing struggle, Filipinos fail to realize that there is an untapped solution right under their noses – their friendly neighborhood pharmacists.
“For every Filipino that sees a doctor, 10 visit their local pharmacist, that is 10 times the opportunity for Filipinos to get access to healthcare and get educated about self-care, and yet they fail to maximize their pharmacists’ potential,” said Maria Valentina Sposito, Head of ASEA for Sanofi Consumer Healthcare.
Over-educated and Under-utilized: Filipino Pharmacists
Despite the pharmacy practice requiring a four-year degree and license, it remains underrated in the Philippines. Their numbers are also limited with only approximately 30,000 in practice, spread thinly across communities, hospitals, and institutions.
“Most often, people would view pharmacists as just salespersons, but they don’t realize that we are healthcare professionals behind that counter,” said Ma. Gilda Saljay, the current president of the Philippine Pharmacists Association Inc. (PPHA), “Pharmacists are usually the first and often also the last line in healthcare you go to for health concerns. We see this an opportunity to give them the correct health information, medication counseling, and ways to address their health issues.”
Consequently, pharmacists though trained in their medical profession also need to continually train and be involved in capacity building and upskilling through Continuing Professional Development Programs especially when it comes to their soft skills and communication skills. This is to keep up with the increasing demand in counseling patients on primary care needs or addressing common but non-critical conditions like colds and cough.
“Filipino pharmacists are trained to counsel patients, but there is also a need to empower them to gain the confidence to approach patients and address concerns in their respective pharmacies,” Saljay remarked, “This is the biggest challenge for all Filipino pharmacists, one we’re working towards improving. We want to empower and educate pharmacists with the right skills to help unburden the country’s healthcare system.”
“Globally, pharmacists are seen as experts in optimal outcomes for prescribed medicines and the cornerstone for the effective provision of the universal healthcare. In the Philippines, people are still stuck on the idea that pharmacists are transactional instead of actual healthcare professionals,” Dr. Thorsten Berg, Scientific Affairs Head of Sanofi Consumer Healthcare AMEA (Asia/Middle East/Africa) added, “We want to shift the perception people have of Philippine pharmacists because we see their potential to be a vital access point for healthcare advice in the community thus relieving the burden on other channels of the healthcare system.”
PharmAcademy: Empowering the secret weapon
In the interest of empowering and upskilling Filipino pharmacists to become indispensable and trusted healthcare providers, Sanofi Consumer Healthcare partnered with SwipeRx, a learning platform dedicated for pharmacists, and PPHA, the official organization representing Philippine pharmacists, to launch PharmAcademy, a learning tool for pharmacists.
PharmAcademy is a platform that provides learning modules for pharmacists to enhance their knowledge through Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and Digital Learning Campaigns and their soft skills and business acumen skills at zero cost and taken at their own pace. While already available to a limited number in the Philippines in the last three years, the launch of PharmAcademy on SwipeRX makes the learning tool available to all pharmacists and SwipeRX users across the country.
“We make sure that pharmacists can have the access to training materials to help them to step up and be what they are: healthcare providers,” Dr. Berg noted. “The PharmAcademy courses are also useful to their profession, so if they get on the platform and train, they get credit points to renew their licenses and continue their practice.”
Through PharmAcademy, Sanofi Consumer Healthcare along with partners PPHA and SwipeRx hope to not only boost the credibility and recognition of the pharmacy profession in the country, but also empower Filipino pharmacists to embody their crucial role in the healthcare system.
“We want pharmacists to use PharmAcademy for their own development, so they’ll have better understanding of not only how to take care the people who go see a pharmacist, but also be able to relay that message of practicing proper self-care,” Sposito said.
“I believe that pharmacists in the Philippines have the expertise, accountability, and training to truly step up and be the first line of aid for the community. We believe they have the potential to become world class healthcare professionals and hold the key to relieving the nation’s overburdened healthcare system, and we are hopeful that PharmAcademy will assist them in realizing this potential,” Dr. Berg concluded.