When things go wrong, sharing information about the problems can help prevent other patients from suffering in future.
Medicines and vaccines are modern miracles, bringing health and hope to hundreds of millions of people just as traditional medicines have throughout the centuries. But there is also a darker side to all medicines. Being powerful substances, they can also cause injury, even death, from time to time. How can we reduce the risks, maximise the benefits and prevent patients from suffering?
Vigilance – being alert and watchful - is one of the main paths to the safer use of medicines: patients and prescribers must constantly watch what happens during and after treatment. When things go wrong, they must diagnose the problem, take action to solve it, and then report it to their local or national pharmacovigilance centre. Then the problem can be reviewed at a national level and a decision made if action needs to be taken to change or restrict the use of the medicine.
National data about the problems is then sent to UMC by member countries of the WHO Programme for International Drug Monitoring, where it is entered into VigiBase, the WHO global database of individual case safety reports. There the global picture of the drug can be reviewed and analysed. If patterns of harm emerge from the international data, then they are communicated to countries to consider during their own decision-making. UMC does not make decisions about the clinical use of medicines.
‘Take two tablets, three times a day for ten days…’
Apparently the simplest of instructions, these ordinary words alert us to many serious questions that all of us - doctors, nurses, pharmacists, patients and carers alike - need to ask while treatment is being discussed. The answers are often not as obvious or simple as we may think.
These are some of the vital questions that will lead to safer use of medicines and wise therapeutic decisions. They must concern our health providers and all of us when we are patients. They are also at the heart of pharmacovigilance and the work of the UMC team. Much is being done worldwide to deal with these issues, but there are gaps and deficiencies and we are far from having answers to many of them yet.