Pharmacies will in the future be required to spread out and decongest from particular localities if a bill establishing regulations on food supplements, medicines, medical devices, poisons, cosmetics, herbal medicine and other related health commodities, becomes law. Presently, most of the country’s pharmacies are mostly located in urban areas.

To boost this, investment opportunities in the sector will be opened up to other interested parties – private individuals and companies – as long as they employ qualified personnel.

The current law only allows authorised or qualified pharmacists to own and operate retail pharmacies.

The new reform was discussed by Ministry of Health officials and MPs in the Lower Chamber’s Committee on Social Affairs on Wednesday as they began scrutinising the draft bill.

According to John Patrick Mwesigye, the Pharmacy Task Force Coordinator in the Ministry of Health (MoH), the Government realised that the present law hinders investment in the sector.

Health Minister, Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, told MPs that the move is meant to push investments in the sector to fill an existing pharmacy gap. She said the government does not want pharmacies to be crowded in some areas while lacking in others.

“When this is passed, we will regulate the companies involved. We do not want five pharmacies in the same place. We are going to implement a minimum distance between each one so that they can serve the population better,” Binagwaho said.

While even non-pharmacists will be able to own businesses, only a qualified pharmacist can work at a pharmacy to ensure safe and effective use of medicine.

It was noted that effective regulation and control requires stringent legal mechanisms. At one point, Ignacienne Nyirarukundo, the Deputy Chairperson of the Committee, wondered whether the move will reduce costs.

Meanwhile, the government is working to strengthen regulatory mechanisms which lack specific regulations, to bring them in harmony   with other East African Community (EAC) member states.

Once passed, it is expected that a specialised national body, to be known as the Rwanda Food and Medicines Authority, will be charged with ensuring that regulations are adhered to. The public entity will be in charge of issuing licenses to manufacturers, importers, exporters and retailers of the regulated products.

By James Karuhanga, The New Times

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