The Iraqi Ministry of Health (MOH) in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), celebrated on 7 May 2007 the opening ceremony of the newly rehabilitated National Center for Drug Control and Research (NCDCR), also known as the National Drug Control Laboratory (NDQCL, which serves 27 million population.
The implementation of this US$ 5.9 million project was initiated in August 2004 by WHO in response to MOH's request for technical assistance to re-establish the functionality of the NDQCL which was completely not operational due to damage and looting, subsequent to the March-April 2003 armed conflict in Iraq.
This is an important achievement for Iraq as a functional lab is key to improving drug quality and hence the health status of Iraqi population. At present, this is the only available legal instrument to analyze and certify that pharmaceutical products imported or locally produced are safe for use in medical practice in Iraq.
The quality of pharmaceuticals has become, in the last few years, a global concern. Recent reports indicate that the availability of substandard and counterfeit medicines has reached a disturbing proportion in many countries, particularly those with Drug Regulatory Authorities weakened by disruption resulting from natural or man made disasters.
The lack of reliable drug quality assurance systems, resulting in the use of use of poor quality drugs can have serious health implications including treatment failure, adverse effects, increased morbidity and mortality, developments of drug resistance and wastage of resources.
The Iraqi Ministry of Health understood the above risks and took a strategic decision to minimize the effect of use of substandard medicines. MOH Iraq has been working together with the World Health Organization over two years to re-establish the capability of the National Center for Drug Control, using funds provided through UNDG Iraq Trust Fund (European Commission Contribution). This was achieved through renovating, extending and equipping the main buildings of the NDQCL and developing appropriate training programs in performing appropriate methods/techniques and developing procedures and guidelines for drug quality control and in laboratory management. The implementation of this project was regularly monitoring by WHO international staff including the most recent visit of 11 April 2007 to the project site by a WHO team lead by WHO Representative for Iraq
Access to affordable and safe medicines is a basic human right and the services already rendered by the rehabilitated laboratory are contributing to this objective. The number of tests performed per year by the NDQCL between January 2003 and December 2006 has increased by about three times (from about 28,400 tests in 2003 to about 90,000 in 2006) and the number of tests that could not be performed because of lack of equipment has steadily decreased (from 156 tests in 2003 to 80 in 2006). Also, following the installation of communications equipment, the centre has increased access to updated documents and data on drug quality control procedures via the internet, including access to WHO and other specialized websites.
The World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health Iraq are thankful to the European Commission for its contribution to achieving this milestone. It is hoped that this will be first step to further improvement and development in assuring quality medicines for the people of Iraq.