The MEDISAFE project was initiated by the European Union in 2018, under the CBRN Centres of Excellence Initiative, in response to a local demand. Its deployment in the 11 partner countries has relied largely on the cooperation of the National Focal Points of the CBRN Centres of Excellence. As MEDISAFE comes to an end, it was therefore essential to have their viewpoint on the implementation of the project. Dr. Odette Kabena Ngandu, National Focal Point of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since 2021, graciously agreed to answer our questions. Dr. Kabena Ngandu holds a PhD in Biological Science from the University of Kinshasa and is a university lecturer and microbiologist. In this interview, she tells us about the achievements and prospects of the project.
Can you tell us about your role as a National Focal Point for the MEDISAFE project?
Odette Kabena Ngandu: As a National Focal Point for the MEDISAFE project, I am responsible at national level for the coordination and monitoring of the activities implemented in the DRC under the project. National legal and pharmaceutical experts were initially recruited to contribute to the project. I subsequently assisted them with their activities in the context of the various technical meetings organised by MEDISAFE, but also with the production of mission reports, liaising between them and the government authorities. I am also the focal point between the MEDISAFE project and the Congolese political and administrative authorities.
The MEDISAFE project is coming to an end, what achievements have marked you the most?
O.K.N.: I think there have been two main achievements. The first is the organisation of technical training to build the capacities of the national experts, the National Focal Points, and the other national stakeholders involved in the fight against substandard and falsified medical products (SFMP). The second is the production of strategic documents, in collaboration with the legal and pharmaceutical experts. They include the Reference Manual on Legislation on SFMP, the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Security Assessment Guide, and the national action plans. The challenge at national level now lies in taking ownership of the project’s achievements. This will involve convincing the political and administrative authorities of the relevance and paramount importance of the MEDISAFE Reference Manual in facilitating improvements in our legislation.
You took part in the awareness-raising workshops for civil society on the dangers of substandard and falsified medical products. What did you make of them?
O.K.N.: I think that awareness-raising is a great way of improving the prevention of and response to SFMP, with the aim of strengthening public health and safety. But I do feel that it would have been necessary to organise more of these awareness-raising workshops, and in several areas in partner countries. It would also have been worthwhile to prepare various communication materials and tools to distribute to NGOs to facilitate the feedback in their respective environments. Repression is another way of fighting against SFMP, due the criminal dimension of manufacturing and trafficking.
In the context of the project, representatives of the DRC expressed the wish to advocate with their government on the issue of the country adhering to the MEDICRIME Convention. This led to a dedicated technical seminar organised in Kinshasa in November 2022. What feedback have you had since then and what is the outlook?
O.K.N.: The MEDICRIME Convention remains a binding international legal instrument. Since the seminar, we have provided the main actors in the DRC with all the necessary information. We are now waiting for the government to state its official position as soon as possible.
Generally speaking, how can the sustainability of the activities implemented be promoted at national level?
O.K.N.: To promote the sustainability of the activities implemented, we first need to increase awareness among civil society of the risks related to SFMP. It is also essential to strengthen the legal framework in order to punish the manufacturing and trafficking of SFMP. A third activity that needs to be developed is a periodic assessment of the national architecture of this scourge on the ground.