The importance of drug safety

When sick, people take medicine to feel better and improve their health, however, experts say when these medicines are not taken the way they are prescribed and directed by a health personnel, they can lead to complications, or death, in some cases.

To ensure safety, medics say it starts with production to health experts to patients; any mistake can lead to complications.


Floribert Biziyaremye, anti-TB drugs management senior officer at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), says drug safety starts from manufacturing and should comply with the standards set by World Health Organisation.


What should be done?

Biziyaremye says prescriptions vary, even how the medicine is administered to patients. For instance, some medicines can be given by an intravenous (IV), injection or infusion, meaning they are sent directly into one’s vein using a needle or tube, or oral administration.


He says prescribers have to know which medicine to prescribe to a patient and why, adding that this is because there are those that are not good for children, pregnant women, or people with other diseases, among others.

He notes that all this has to be cross-checked by an expert before medicine is given to patients.

Pregnant women are warned against the use of unprescribed medication. 

He adds that they have to know the right dose for each patient depending on what they are suffering from.

“If health providers don’t give the correct dose, it can be harmful. Also, how the medicine should be taken is important to consider, making sure patients understand everything concerning the medicine,” he says.

Yvan Ntwari, a general practitioner in Kigali, says that when it comes to medicine administered through injections, caregivers should know the forms of administration, because there are techniques on how to do it.

He says the person giving the injection should be qualified. They should be in a position to sensitise the patient and respond to queries the patient may have.

“The conditions should be explained to patients very well so that they understand what to do or not do with the medicine given, to prevent issues that could arise due to limited knowledge,” he says.

Ntwari says some patients have a habit of taking the medicine homes and storing it carelessly, which is not recommended. But if they are well-informed on the safety of the medicine, health risks can be avoided.

“For each medicine, there are some conditions, like storing them under a certain temperature. And all medicines require different conditions, therefore, adhering to this is important because it helps the medicine be effective throughout the time of dosage, thus ensuring cure to whoever is taking them,” he says.

Lorine Uwejeneza, a pharmacist at Gisementi, says patients should also know how long the medicine can be used. She says there are drugs that are not meant to exceed a certain time, and following this strictly is important to avoid complications that may arise.

She adds that if patients are equipped with this vital information, there will  be fewer cases of medicine not being effective, and complications will be avoided.

Uwajeneza points out that patients need to collaborate with health experts whenever medicine is being administered. For instance, she says, some patients request medicine in form of injections because they think their illness is serious and that tablets won’t work for them.

She says this is not recommended and is part of medicine safety because when the right medication is compromised, there will be no success.

Additionally, she says the expiry dates of medicine should also be checked because the usefulness of the medicine reduces, or can lead to other health problems, if taken when expired.

Consult a healthcare professional before using medication. /File photos


Biziyaremye says some of the complications that patients experience are a result of taking a dose incorrectly, for instance, at the time recommended by the physician. Also, he adds, taking more than what is required can lead to complications, and even death, depending on the type and quantity taken.

He observes that aside from that, when a patient combines medicine with alcohol, or certain foods, it can result in complications. For example, he says, some types of anti-depressants can cause life-threatening problems if combined with cheese or some other foods, and alcoholic drinks.

“It’s important for a patient to let their doctors or pharmacists know about the medicine they have been taking, including non-prescriptions and complementary medicines such as vitamins and herbal supplements. This is to avoid mixing medicine, which is very dangerous,” he says.

Ntwari says it’s also important for patients to be open with physicians if; one is a heavy drinker, is pregnant, breastfeeding, or, is allergic to certain medicines, among other things, because certain medicines when taken can bring about complications.

He notes that if one takes medicine that is meant for diabetic people, they can develop hypocalcaemia, which is a condition in which there are lower than average levels of calcium in the liquid part of the blood or the plasma.

“There are different kinds of medications, some of which are allowed to be used without prescription, while others require a physician. Even at the pharmacy, there are labels indicating that the medicine can only be issued under a doctor’s prescription,” he says.

Physicians have to know which medicine to prescribe to a patient and why. /Net photo

Importance of drug safety

Uwajeneza says that medicines are chemicals and if taken well, patients will be cured but if they are taken the wrong way, they can lead to complications.

Also, caution is required to minimise any side effects that come with careless taking of medicine.

Some side effects depend on the nature of the chemicals, but, others depend on the number of doses (frequency).

“If the patient is not informed about this (taking more or fewer doses), it can result in complications,” she says.

Experts share their views

Avoid using medicines that have been prescribed to someone else, regardless of whether it’s an adult or child. This is because depending on one’s illness, they require different drugs with different dosage and directions.

Gonzalue Niyigaba, Medic at University Teaching Hospital of Kigali


People should avoid the habit of getting used to over-the-counter medicine, especially without prescription from a doctor. Besides, diseases like influenza sometimes just go away without medication, what is needed is to adapt to some home remedies to cure it.

Elias Ntwali, General practitioner


Adults should ensure that the medicines at home are kept away from children to avoid disasters like poisoning. Also, consulting a physician before giving children medicine is ideal.

Aline Gihozo, Nurse


It’s important to label medicine bottles to prevent cases of children taking them by mistake. Also, in case of any allergic reaction regarding the medicine prescribed, the patient should contact the physician.

Phiologan Kwizera, Medical student


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