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WHO status for UKZN's Centre for Pharmaceutical Policy and Evidence Based Practice

Professor Nana Poku, acting vice-chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), was delighted to receive the news that the university's Centre for Pharmaceutical Policy and Evidence Based Practice has been designated as a World Health Organisation (WHO) Collaborating Centre.

"This prestigious endorsement is no mean feat, but UKZN has the expertise and institutional capacity to support the WHO's activities and programmes at all levels," said Poku.

The centre is headed by Fatima Suleman, an internationally renowned professor of pharmacy practice. She was also the Prince Claus Chair of Development and Equity: Affordable (Bio) Therapeutics for Public Health at Utrecht University in The Netherlands from 2016 to 2018. Suleman currently chairs the South African National Medicines Pricing Committee (a ministerial appointment). A long-standing advocate for affordable and equitable access to medicines for public health, Suleman was thrilled that the application was successful.

UKZN's Centre for Pharmaceutical Policy and Evidence Based Practice will work with the WHO and other countries to promote affordable access to quality, safe and effective medicines, vaccines, diagnostics and other medical devices. Activities will include providing technical advice and assistance to the WHO and its member states when requested, conducting evidence-based pharmaceutical policy analysis, and strengthening and/or developing conceptual innovation in curriculum and pedagogy in pharmaceutical sciences.

In collaboration with the WHO, the centre will provide training for WHO member states/regions in the field of pharmaceutical policy, pharmaco-economics, the rational use of medicines, pharmacy training, evidence-based practice and related areas. Finally, it will support WHO tool development and data management, policy analysis and reporting for country-level profiles.

Suleman said: "The designation also opens up improved opportunities to exchange information and develop technical co-operation with other institutions, particularly at international level, and to mobilise additional resources from funding partners."

Suleman recently participated in a Fair Pricing Forum sponsored by the WHO, where she advocated for affordable global drug pricing. "There's something in the system of medicine pricing that's broken, and it's something that we need to really look at and figure out how we can fix it," she said.

"We also want transparency from the industry. Research and development costs should be declared so that patients can make an informed decision about paying a bit extra for a medicine because they know that it will help fund something that's going to help them further down the line. Part of the concern is the kickbacks, discounts, rebates; the perverse incentives in the system that are also unclear."

Dr Manimbulu Nlooto, head of UKZN's Discipline of Pharmaceutical Sciences, congratulated the team, saying: "The Discipline of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UKZN is proud to host the WHO Collaborating Centre for Pharmaceutical Policy and Evidence Based Practice for a period of four years, starting from 1 April 2019. This centre is a culmination of the excellent work done by Professor Fatima Suleman and her team of collaborators.

"The presence of this centre within the Discipline of Pharmaceutical Sciences will help academics in the discipline and the College of Health Sciences to strengthen and expand their expertise and educational programmes to support both postgraduates and policymakers in the African region and internationally. It will be a hub for international and national researchers to carry out various research projects of interest to members of the WHO."

Members of the UKZN team working with Suleman include Professor Sabiha Essack, Dr Frasia Oosthuizen, Dr Velisha Perumal-Pillay, Dr Varsha Bangalee and Mr Andy Gray.

Words: MaryAnn Francis