Medication Without Harm - WHO Challenge

Safe med

What is the Issue?

At some point in our lives, we will all take medicines to prevent or treat illness. Medicine has altered our ability to live with disease and generally increased the duration of our lives. However, medicines do sometimes cause serious harm if taken incorrectly, not monitored properly or as the result of an error, accident or communication problem.  

Unsafe medication use is a leading cause of harm, most of it preventable, in healthcare systems around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) has initiated the third Global Patient Safety Challenge on Medication Safety to focus on improving medication safety by strengthening the systems for reducing medication errors and avoidable medication-related harm.

What is the Challenge?

The goal of the WHO Challenge is to reduce severe, avoidable harm related to medicines by 50% in the next 5 years, globally.

Everyone, including patients and health care professionals, has a role to play in ensuring medication safety. 

Medication safety issues can impact health outcomes, length of stay in a hospital, readmission rates, and overall costs to Ireland's healthcare system. Globally, the cost associated with medication errors has been estimated at over €35 billion.

We are currently working with the Department of Health and awaiting their direction to agree Ireland’s response to the challenge.

What can I do?

1. Keep a list of all current medicines you are taking.  This includes all prescribed medicines (don’t forget inhalers, patches, injections, creams, eye drops etc) and also any over-the-counter medicines or supplements you may use. 

2. Include the strength of each medicine (e.g. 50mg), how much you take each day (e.g. 2 tablets) and the time (e.g. at night).

3. Note any allergies you have.

4. Bring this list with you to all appointments or if you are admitted to hospital.

5. Include your GP and Pharmacy contact details.

6. When you see your doctor, pharmacist or nurse, ask about any medicines which have been stopped, changed or added, and why.  Ask for help from a family member or your healthcare provider (for example nurse, pharmacist or doctor) if needed to make sure your list is kept up to date with any changes. 

The three priority action areas are:

  • To improve medication safety at transitions of care (for example being admitted or discharged from hospital).
  • To reduce the risk in high-risk situations (for example certain patient groups or certain medicines).
  • To reduce the level of inappropriate polypharmacy (when a person uses a number of medicines on a regular basis including some unnecessary medicines or medicines without a known reason).

In order to meet the challenge the WHO has identified four domains of work:

1. Patients and the public

2. Healthcare Professionals

3. Medicines

4. Systems and practices of medication

More information, reports, patient stories and campaign materials including posters and a video are available from:  and

More information will be added to this site in the coming months, please check back for updates.

WHO Pic 1 WHO Pic 2          

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