How Medication errors contribute over 3 million deaths annually – WHO

As the world marks World Patient Safety Day today, global estimates has shown that medication errors contribute over 3 million deaths annually. The estimates , according to the World Health Organisation, WHO, revealed that the situation has been exacerbated by overwhelmed health systems during the COVID-19 pandemic.


The WHO report to mark this years event tagged: “Medication Safety: Medication Without Harm”, noted that about one in every four cases of preventable medication harm is clinically severe, or life-threatening.


The World Patient Safety Day is marked annually on 17 September, with the aim to raise awareness of the importance of people-centred care and preventing harm to patients.


In her message to mark the day, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti explained that medication errors occur most commonly due to weaknesses in medication systems, and are aggravated by shortages of well-trained health staff, and poor working and environmental conditions for delivery of quality health care.


She said patients’ rights to medication without prejudice can be compromised through inappropriate prescribing, transcribing, dispensing, administration and monitoring practices.


“While there is limited data for the African continent, it is generally acknowledged that there is a high magnitude of unsafe medication practices.

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” Among low- and middle-income countries, the African Region has the highest prevalence of substandard and counterfeit medicines (18.7 percent).

How Medication errors contribute over 3 million deaths annually – WHO
How Medication errors contribute over 3 million deaths annually – WHO

She identified some of the practices to be avoided to include: administration of surplus medication at home, the purchase of medication from pharmacies on the advice of friends and relatives rather than trained professionals, and the use of old prescriptions to buy medication to treat a current ailment.


“One study done in 2021 shows that as many as one in every three respondents admitted to self-medicating to prevent COVID-19. This is unacceptably high because such unguided practices often lead to dangerous consequences as a result of drug interactions, or incorrect administration, dosage or choice of treatment. Consequences include delays in treating diseases, dependence and abuse, disability, and even death.

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Weak medication systems and/or human factors are the major contributory factors to unsafe practices, with many countries lacking the capacity to detect, evaluate and prevent medicine safety issues. Other contributory factors include fatigue, inadequate knowledge and training, staff shortages, workplace distractions, and high workload and limited resources.


Illiteracy, language difficulties, as well as socio-cultural and religious beliefs, also play a role.


She said based on the estimates, a total of US$ 42 billion of total health expenditure worldwide could be averted if medication errors are addressed.


She said medication without harm reduces severe avoidable medication-related harm by 50 percent globally in the next five years, through focused activities and interventions targeting three areas: patients and the public; health care professionals; and medicines, systems and medication practices.

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“We are working with Member States to implement the WHO Global Patient Safety Action Plan 2021–2030. A regional patient safety strategy and road map are currently being developed to guide its implementation.”

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