Perspectives on Global Health from Pharmacists Around the World, Part 3

As healthcare continues to morph and adapt based on the requirements of kind, compassionate, evidence-based care, pharmacists are playing a vital role in ensuring patient’s needs are met in countless regions across the earth. In this four-part IH Blog series, the pharmacy role accompanied by profession-related challenges and pharmacist-led global health initiatives will be explored within a profession that is often underappreciated. The following perspectives, shared by practicing pharmacy professionals from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), India, Cambodia, and the United States of America (USA) aim at highlighting various aspects of healthcare that should be properly addressed by governmental bodies, NGOs, and all stakeholders by both sustainable political will and empowering solutions. 

This third segment focuses on local and global pharmacist roles in each of these areas and the thoughts that pharmacists from these respective nation states have been willing to share with IH Connect.

Healthcare systems across the globe are unceasingly identifying novel approaches for health professionals to fulfill. The traditional roles that physicians, nurses, and other allied health workers performed in the past have metamorphosed as patient-care management is altered to effectively accompany patients. A few illustrations include: one of the most prominent international non-governmental organizations (INGO), Partners In Health, has a nurse – Sheila Davis – as it’s CEO contrasting a physician fulfilling this position; physician assistants and nurse practitioners being heavily utilized as primary care providers; and the introduction of community health outreach specialists as vital patient resources. The vocation of a pharmacist, in particular, has been altered significantly depending on the area of the world one inhabits. The majority of humanity believe that pharmacists are those who solely dispense medications, but several regions on the earth have realized the benefit of incorporating pharmacists in direct patient management, treatment guideline development, and even directors of ministries of health. Regardless of the development of pharmacy in a country, this healthcare profession is a key to kind, compassionate patient-centered care. The following commentaries from the United States of America, India, United Arab Emirates, and Cambodia explore the profession of pharmacy both locally and internationally while exposing initiatives to improve global health through pharmacists.  

 Dr. Moeung Sotheara, Ph.D. 

Clinical Research Assistant & Part Time Lecturer – University of Health Sciences

Phnom Penh, Cambodia 

In Cambodia, a large proportion of pharmacists work in community pharmacy, pharmaceutical enterprises and hospital pharmacy. However, there is still an insufficient presence of pharmacists in each area. In community pharmacy in particular, the inadequate presence of pharmacists is due to the current system of “name renting”, a legacy of post-war public health policy in response to the shortage of healthcare professionals. In such a system, any person having minimum knowledge in medicine dispensing and having been trained by the Ministry of Health for a specific period of time can “rent” a pharmacist’s name to apply for a pharmacy permit. Nevertheless, despite the growing number of pharmacists owning a pharmacy in recent years, the pharmacists’ role remains the traditional product-oriented functions of dispensing and distributing medicines and health supplies. In other words, pharmacists are still viewed as “simple medicine sellers” by the public. As the country develops and medicine consumption has increased, the pharmacist’s services in community as well as in hospital pharmacy must shift from medication dispensing to a focus on safe and effective medication use to achieve optimal patient outcomes. Pharmacists must assert themselves as medication experts and play a more active role in patient counseling and promoting the rational use of medicine. In addition, pharmacists must also be actively involved in public health. The functions of public health that can benefit from pharmacists’ expertise may include disaster preparedness, immunizations, preventive health measures and educating other healthcare providers about various techniques of prescribing medications and issues related to the drug use process.

Transitioning the discussion to global health, pharmacists have unique skill sets and assets that put them in a prime position to collaborate with members of the health care team to address global health issues and challenges. However, there is limited information on the role of the pharmacist in this field. There are 3 areas pharmacists can play in global health in the future: global health practice and program delivery, global health research, and global health policy. In the area of global health practice and program delivery, pharmacists can serve an important role on the health care team in under-served countries by helping address barriers to the delivery of care due to their knowledge of drug products, storage requirements, dispensing requirements, and logistics of pharmacy operations. They can improve clinical outcomes through patient-centered services such as glucose monitoring and blood pressure management, and also potentially work with local and national health organizations to help develop global health programs based on successful interventions made locally in the community. In the area of global health research, pharmacists who are affiliated with a university that has a focus on this area can assess global health projects and research initiatives to determine if opportunities exist for pharmacy to get involved and to add new dimensions to existing global health research. Finally, the outcomes of global health research often stimulate the need for proposing and evaluating global health policy at both the governmental and national level at which pharmacists can lend their expertise. As medication experts, pharmacists routinely exercise their knowledge of the rational use of medications, their cost-effectiveness, and the safety and efficacy of therapeutic regimens. These concepts can be applied domestically toward the development of policies that have global implications.

Nazgul Bashir, B. Pharm

Registered Pharmacist – Super Care Pharmacy

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

The role of the pharmacist varies from region to region and differs in several aspects. While there are areas of this world in which Pharmacists have vital roles in health sectors, there are other parts where pharmacists are given underutilized roles. Pharmacists are scattered throughout the community allowing them to be the most approachable healthcare professional – needing no appointment, no time restrictions and often being available 24 hours. Due to their aforementioned accessibility, their roles should be thoroughly revised, and the public should be made more adequately aware of their significance in communities.

Regarding the regional role of pharmacists in the United Arab Emirates, there was little utilization of pharmacists 10 to 20 years ago. Even now, some locations lack proper utilization due to their role being more product-based selling and dispensing any medication prescribed by the physicians. This occurs even though pharmacists in UAE are available in hospitals, health clinics, community and in retail stores allowing them significant access to patients.

To elaborate on the under-utilization of pharmacists, the current healthcare system typically does not promote pharmacist’s interventions in patient-management. This could include managing the dose of a hypertension agent, discussing change of therapy to more efficiently achieve patient outcomes, and a larger role in discharges from hospitals where pharmacists can provide counseling and follow-up.

Immunization is another role of pharmacists which could make a huge impact. Currently, most of the immunizations in this region are taking place in hospitals and health centers which are handled by nurses and physicians. However, this role can be handed to pharmacists in the community who can bring awareness to communities so that people won’t miss their vaccinations . In particular, many people are not even aware about the importance of flu shots. Pharmacists should be given an equal responsibility in bringing the awareness in a community and assisting people to receive their shots on time and prevent ailments. Counseling on family planning, use of contraception, palliative care, prevention of disease, identifying high-risk patients for diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are services not offered in pharmacies. Over-the-counter advice and educating patients on dietary supplements are often performed, but pharmacists are still underutilized overall.

However, the future of pharmacists in UAE look promising as several chain pharmacies make new exceptions in implementing more significant roles for their pharmacists. For example, physicians are advised to use the generic name so that pharmacists can choose to dispense the trade name.Additionally, pharmacists are being advised to minimize the use of antibiotics by making them strictly prescription based thus avoiding unnecessary use of them. Many barriers for increased pharmacist services need to be overcome: lack of time to offer services, shortage of pharmacists, lack of patient demand and low patient acceptance, lack of knowledge and skills, and underestimation of enhanced pharmacy services by physicians. With these barriers in mind, government and health authorities are planning their best and making promising change to bring the best of the pharmacy divisions.

Dr. Bryce Adams, Pharm D., RPh.

Oncology Medical Science Liaison

Washington D.C., United States of America 

Before delving into the role of the pharmacist in the United States, I would like to highlight the Oath of a Pharmacist as this serves as the model of how a pharmacist should view their role:

“I promise to devote myself to a lifetime of service to others through the profession of pharmacy. In fulfilling this vow:

  • I will consider the welfare of humanity and relief of suffering my primary concerns.
  • I will apply my knowledge, experience, and skills to the best of my ability to assure optimal outcomes for my patients.
  • I will respect and protect all personal and health information entrusted to me.
  • I will accept the lifelong obligation to improve my professional knowledge and competence.
  • I will hold myself and my colleagues to the highest principles of our profession’s moral, ethical and legal conduct.
  • I will embrace and advocate changes that improve patient care.
  • I will utilize my knowledge, skills, experiences, and values to prepare the next generation of pharmacists.

I take these vows voluntarily with the full realization of the responsibility with which I am entrusted by the public.”

Currently, the USA is in the midst of a great shift in the pharmacist profession. According to 2017 statistics, 60% of pharmacists in the United States were practicing in retail pharmacies – this includes drug, merchandise, and grocery stores. However, these roles are expected to decrease over the coming years. There are several contributing factors for this decrease – one being a decrease in the price margins per prescription. As pharmacies make less money for each prescription that is filled, businesses have to fill more prescriptions with less staff. This can cause a host of issues, such as having less time to counsel patients, more reliance on technology to catch errors, an increase in likelihood for medication errors, and a more difficult time fulfilling the oath of a pharmacist. Ultimately, this leads to under-utilization of the pharmacist profession by placing less of a value on their role of positively impacting patient care.

Fortunately, pharmacists have been realizing this shift and have been proactive in adapting. They have achieved this by advocating for additional venues to provide value, such as being able to bill for medication therapy management services and administering vaccines. These services are extremely beneficial for patients and also increase revenue for the businesses. While roles in the retail setting are expected to decrease, roles in the hospital and ambulatory care settings are expected to increase. Currently, 30% of pharmacists are in these settings. With an increasingly elderly population, these roles are becoming even more important.

These aforementioned pharmacist provided-services typically utilize this profession in a more productive way by rounding with physicians and helping to inform clinical decisions for specific patients. The rest of pharmacists are scattered across a variety of specialties. Two of these specialties are academia and the pharmaceutical industry. Both of these have more of a global health impact, as academia is training the next wave of professionals who will have an international presence and will impact care while the pharmaceutical industry is developing the next wave of transformative medications that will improve patient care on a global level.

Before I finish, I want to revisit the oath of a pharmacist. As the United States healthcare system is being scrutinized due to the cost, as technology is becoming more utilized, and processes are becoming more automated, pharmacists will need to “embrace and advocate changes that improve patient care.” Pharmacists are in a unique position as the medication experts to greatly impact patient care, and it’s up to this profession to ensure that the right patient gets the right drug at the right dose via the right route at the right time.

Dr. Maneesha Erraboina, PharmD.

International Business Manager – Helics Group Scientific Networks 

Hyderabad, India 

In theory, the role of Indian pharmacists is to dispense medications by adjusting the dose for patients based on their health condition, and they play a major role in the rational use of drugs especially antibiotics. However, in India, it is very difficult to find a pharmacist in clinical hospital settings and none of the medical organizations have pharmacist professionals in the healthcare team. 

According to mainstream Indian psychology, most of the population only accepts medications from physicians rather than another profession, like pharmacists. This is an ongoing trait of Indian citizens that has existed for several years with very few signs of significant change in the future. 

In my own personal experience, I had an opportunity to attend an interview for a pharmacy position; however, the role was not directly related to dispensing medications. Due to the disconnect between the doctorate level education and the available job opportunities, I ended up in another profession within the health arena that wasn’t directly related to my education. Although I feel all PharmD. graduates are in a very good position today, they may need to explore unique opportunities as the profession catches up with the education level. 

In the future, I feel pharmacists could play an active role in the healthcare system as they are meant for patient care. I believe this feeds into having a primary role in clinical hospital settings. In addition, Pharm.D graduates will have other opportunities in clinical and medical research, pharmacovigilance, teaching, and scientific journal publishing companies in India.

In India pharmacists are underutilized in professional pharmacy roles such as a clinical pharmacist. However, in exploring other areas of the health field, Indian pharmacy graduates have taken advantage of their education to influence the global health society. As a personal example, my current role as an international business manager allows me to organize health conferences around the world to advance healthcare. As the pharmacy profession continues to grow and adapt across the globe, I believe one role for pharmacists will be ubiquitous: avoiding the irrational use of drugs to protect patients and improve health outcomes.

Improving LGBT Health Education in South Africa: Addressing the Gap

I first became interested in the topic of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) health care and health education while working as a country lead for the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). During my time there I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa and understand their community and health care system a bit better, with an emphasis on their HIV/AIDS epidemic. This post focuses on the LGBT history in South Africa, recent developments, addressing that there is a gap between homophobia and non-judgmental care, and the importance of health care workers understanding LGBT health education.

More and more countries around the world are opening their arms to welcome and embrace LGBT pride. South Africa has one of the world’s more progressive constitutions which legally protects LGBT people from discrimination, although current research indicates that they continue to face discrimination and homophobia in many different facets of life. The most recent milestone occurred in 2006 when the country passed a law to recognize same-sex marriages. Nevertheless, LGBT South Africans particularly those outside of the major cities, continue to face some challenges including conservative attitudes, violence, and high rates of disease. As the country continues to grow there seems to be an increase in LGBT representation (with approximately 4,900,000 people identifying as LGBT) whether it is through activism, tourism, the media and society or support from religious groups. So, what about LGBT health education? Continue reading “Improving LGBT Health Education in South Africa: Addressing the Gap”

Global Health in Conflict: A Weightier Commitment

It is important for early-career professionals interested in pursuing a career in global health to be aware of the realities of working internationally. Although stories of setting up vaccination clinics or fighting Ebola may stir up feelings of excitement, being a part of the action may require additional education and training in conflict resolution and institution building. This is especially true when it comes to conflict-affected areas and fragile states that are the most in need of health care/public health services as a result of the local health system infrastructure being weakened. A different kind of public health professional, one that is willing to risk their life and invest in the indigenous health system, is required in our world today.

I currently work as an epidemiologist at a regional health department in Texas. We serve two main roles for the 30 counties we cover. One of our roles is to function as a local health department and deliver a diverse range of services to 23 counties. The other main role is to serve as an extension of the state health department and provide surveillance/investigation guidance for the reportable conditions that health care providers, schools, and community members are mandated to report. This relationship is seen especially when we work with the 7 counties in our region that have their own local health departments. Before beginning this job, I actually worked at one of these local health departments and was on the receiving end of the interaction described above.

For most of my life, I’ve been interested in pursuing a career in global health or humanitarian work. When I was younger, I thought the only way I could pursue this dream was by being a physician (especially if I wanted to be able to support myself financially). I also believed this to be a great way to help communities that were dying from preventable illnesses. My introduction to public health helped me see that there were many other ways to help achieve the goal of combating deaths due to preventable illnesses. I focused in on epidemiology as a way to combine my science/laboratory background with my desire to serve and entered into an MPH program after completing my B.S. in Biology. Most of my MPH program was spent working hard to obtain tangible experiences in public health practice and deciding which skills would be most necessary for me to have before entering into the workforce. While pursuing my MPH from 2014-2015, some of the hot topics in public health were Ebola, antimicrobial resistance, bioterrorism, anti-vaccination movements, hospital-acquired infections, opioid abuse, tuberculosis trends related to travel, maternal and child health gaps, and continued efforts to end polio and AIDS, to name a few. Towards the end of my program, I began to hear more about the dangers of humanitarian work and global health as stories involving health care and humanitarian workers being targeted in conflict-affected areas/fragile states were highlighted in various media outlets. I also knew of at least one faculty member at the university I attended whose global health team was attacked shortly after the individual returned to the US (after working in the field for a number of years).

When I entered into the public health workforce in 2016, Zika was just becoming a hot topic in public health circles in the U.S. But there were other things for me to learn at my local health department. I received an introduction to the Immunization team and programs such as Texas Vaccines for Children which enable young people in Texas to receive affordable immunization coverage (there is an adult vaccine program too). I also received an introduction to the statewide ImmTrac system that stores vaccine records and learned about some of its strengths and challenges. Ultimately, I was able to see the importance of public health collaborating with healthcare providers, schools, and community members to ensure that a community has adequate herd immunity or, in the case of outbreaks, can deliver effective interventions in response to infectious disease threats. Something else I learned about was the role of immunization clinics or point of dispensing units (PODS) during natural disasters, such as floods, and other public health emergencies.

I’ve shared some of my experience working at the local level because it gave me a tangible picture of how public health functions in stable environments or areas that are not weakened by natural disasters. In conflict-affected areas or fragile states, public health efforts may be fragmented at best. For example, in August 2015 Nigeria was removed from the World Health Organization’s list of countries with endemic Wild Polio Virus (WPV). This was the result of global efforts aimed at eradicating polio through targeted immunization campaigns. Nigeria went two years without WPV cases before, in August 2016, two cases were reported in Borno-a conflict-affected state. Two additional cases were reported in September 2016. The cases were from inaccessible areas of the state with limited security and indicated that prolonged transmission had gone undetected as a result of armed conflict. Although the number of areas held by insurgents, and therefore without access to vaccines, eventually decreased, the conflict in Borno prevented timely vaccination campaigns and posed a risk to Nigeria as a whole. Specifically, migration between Internally Displaced People (IDPs) camps and refugee communities resulted in a higher potential for WPV cases to be reported in states not directly tied to the conflict. A similar trend was noticed with the Ebola outbreak that occurred in West Africa from 2014-2015. The disease posed an increased risk in fragile states and areas affected by conflict. For example, prior civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone severely weakened the countries’ infrastructure in the 1990s. The conflicts also affected surrounding countries and resulted in millions of displaced people. In some of instances, countries had the resources needed to respond to public health emergencies caused by conflict. However, groups of people or areas deemed to be inaccessible as a result of conflict continued to undermine the effectiveness of immunization clinics and infectious disease response efforts.

A comparative analysis conducted by Bourdeaux et al. in 2015 assessed the effect of conflict on health systems in Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya.  Health systems were defined as, “the organized network of institutions, resources and people that deliver health care to populations” and was based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework for Action (2007). The framework highlights financing, leadership/governance, information, medical products/vaccines/technologies, health workforce, and service delivery as essential components of effective health systems. When this organized network is destroyed as a result of armed conflict, high levels of morbidity and mortality occur and can have negative effects that persist even after the conflict is over. The analysis found that the building blocks most affected by conflict and security forces were “governance, information systems and indigenous health delivery organizations.”  In order to address these gaps, a suggestion provided by the authors is to deploy Health Security Teams comprised of individuals with training in public health and institution building to conflict-affected areas and fragile states. The teams would support indigenous health systems instead of creating parallel or temporary systems, and not be involved in serving military interests. Additionally, these teams would know how to guide security forces as they engage with health systems in diverse political climates.

At this point in time in my career, most of my work is done in an office on a phone or computer. When I started my journey in public health, I pictured something different. I still have the long-term goal to work internationally (or financially support myself while volunteering internationally). However, I am sobered by the fact that if I want to serve those who are truly in need (especially as it relates to conflicted-affected areas and fragile states) I will have to be at peace with laying my life on the line. I will also have to be prepared to navigate the challenges presented above. This includes learning as much as I can about conflict resolution and negotiating to protect health systems. In general, I feel that public health has much to do in terms of educating and re-assuring those we serve (both domestically and internationally). As a result, part of my journey in public health will include developing skills as a connector of people and someone that can see both sides of an issue. I think that all public health professionals interested in working in a global health or humanitarian worker capacity should consider this. At the same time, immigrants or refugees that have left their homes due to conflict or in search of better opportunities can also develop the skills needed to resolve conflict and rebuild institutions. The success of the suggested Health Security Teams could depend on this.

 

Photo: Diane Budd, M.D.

conflict

Students, Practice Your Networking Skills at APHA’s 2014 Annual Meeting: Here is How…

Networking can be a daunting task for the young professional, but speaking from experience, it is worth it and a superlative time to perfect this skill-yes, “networking” is a skill- one that you acquire while you are finishing your career as a student.

In today’s professional world, it is becoming less and less about what your resume says and more about who you know. Of course, what you know matters too, but only if you get the interview in the first place. There are many opinions about whether this is a good or a bad thing; regardless it is the reality. In order to make my point I would like to share my personal experiences.

Continue reading “Students, Practice Your Networking Skills at APHA’s 2014 Annual Meeting: Here is How…”