Interested in work that makes a global impact? Pharmacists have important roles around the world — from containing the spread of deadly diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS to educating other pharmacists how to help those overcome a natural disaster such as a tsunami.
Pharmacists in India Work to Stop the Spread of Tuberculosis
The field of pharmacy is expanding all over the world as pharmacists are taking on a more active and hands-on approach to their work. Take Mumbai, for example, where tuberculosis is so rampant it kills two people every three minutes:
In an effort to make tuberculosis treatment easily available, close to a 150 pharmacists in the northeast region of Mumbai have joined the effort to provide DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment, Short course) medicines in their pharmacies for free.
The way DOTS works is that trained health care workers monitor patients as they take each dose of anti-tuberculosis medication. When medication is administered in this closely monitored fashion, patients are more likely to complete the course of treatment. Not only does this benefit the patients, it also benefits the community, as there is less opportunity for the disease to spread.
Originally, DOTS was only available in hospitals, but bringing the program to community pharmacies gives patients greater accessibility, which makes it easier for them to stick to their medication program.
Toronto SARS Outbreak, 2003
Between March and June 2003, there were two major outbreaks of SARS in Toronto. SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, is a serious form of pneumonia caused by a highly infectious virus, which can result in severe trouble breathing or death. During this epidemic, pharmacists were out on the front lines serving as integral members of the relief effort.
When SARS first appeared, health workers had to quickly learn about the outbreak as it occurred. A kit was created and stored in the hospitals’ emergency wards; however, because the disease was so new, the guidelines were constantly changing. It was the pharmacists who took on the responsibility of updating the kits to better fit the circumstances.
One of the biggest adjustments that needed to be made was with patients who had kidney failure. These patients needed their doses of ribvarin (a drug used to treat SARS) changed, but as there was no research available on using the drug for SARS, no one knew by how much. Pharmacists assumed responsibility for developing guidelines based on extensive research of unpublished pharmacokinetic data (the study of how drugs are processed by the body) and direct communication with the drug manufacturer. They also shared all their findings with their pharmacy colleagues at other institutions.
Other necessary changes needed to be made for patients with pre-existing conditions that were normally treated by using nebulizers (for example, asthma patients). A nebulizer is an instrument that turns liquid into a fine mist spray, but the spray presents a risk of spreading germs. Because of this, pharmacists had to adjust the dose of the medication so that it could be delivered through an inhaler, which sprays directly into the mouth.
During the second SARS outbreak, training sessions for new procedures were provided for all pharmacy technicians. Every team member underwent extensive training in infection control and management. At times, pharmacists even had to pinch-hit for other hospital staff who were quarantined or absent due to illness.
These case studies show that, whatever the call, pharmacists all over the world show up to do their part, using their people skills and scientific expertise, their communication know-how and their willingness to keep learning, their ability to manage stressful situations and take on an active leadership role, in order to make the world a healthier place to live.