Medicine Quality Control in Burundi

When I started my work at LifeNet International as a pharmaceutical supply chain officer, I was thrilled, primarily because I knew that I was a part of the movement that is bringing health equity to my country of Burundi. The second reason why I was so enthused to be a part of this fellowship was the fact that the organization in which I was placed, LifeNet International, embodies Christian values that I so deeply believe in.

LifeNet International is a nonprofit organization based in Burundi, with a mission of bringing basic, sustainable, and quality healthcare to the poorest regions of Africa through church-based clinics and hospitals. LifeNet provides its partners with both clinical and management training, access to loans to help expand the scope of the services of various clinics, and access to pharmaceuticals. I play a vital role in executing this last goal as a supply chain officer.

Through the pharmaceutical supply chain, we deliver medicine to clinics, which are mainly located in remote areas. Before this program was launched, clinic nurses were often purchasing medicine themselves. They took time away from their clinics and sometimes spent several days to travel to the capital, buy whatever was available in stock, regardless of the price and quality, and then load these supplies into public transportation in order to return to their clinics.

The program has decreased the occurrence of shortages in clinics and increased the quality and variety of medicine available, while still managing to save the clinics from wasting valuable time and resources previously dedicated to procurement.

However, when I started my work, the first challenge I encountered was trying to identify the best methods to getting and supplying quality-assured medicine. In Burundi, there is a lack of legislation, quality control, and proper drug regulations, which has increased the presence of substandard and counterfeit products circulating in the markets and the improper use of drugs.

In February 2013, Promoting the Quality of Medicine (PQM) began operations for the first time in Burundi. With the support from the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/Burundi selected the PQM program to provide technical, strategic, and operational assistance to strengthen medicine quality assurance in the country. Dr. Mustapha Hajjou, PQM Program Manager–Africa, and Dr. Abdelkrim Smine, USP consultant, met with key partners in January to conduct a gap analysis of the medicine quality assurance system of Burundi. Based on that assessment, the PQM team proposed targeted interventions that will help the National Malaria Control Program (PNILP) develop a quality assurance policy and implement it for antimalarial medicine and malaria diagnosis. In addition, PQM will propose mid-term and long-term interventions that will ensure the adequate quality of medicine in the country.

Even though there is a long way to go in order to achieve quality assurance of medicine, hope has been regained with the implementation of the East African Community Medicines Regulatory Harmonization (EAC-MRH) Program. Its main objective is to improve access to safe, efficacious and quality medicine by harmonizing the medicine regulation systems and procedures in accordance with national and international policies and standards.