Pharmacists on the Frontlines
Both in the U.S. and abroad, pharmacists have taken an active role in offering relief in times of crisis. The clinical expertise of pharmacists has proven to be invaluable when major disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and the Japan tsunami, have devastated large regions, where thousands upon thousands of people need medical service and care.
Pharmacists Lend a Hand to Hurricane Katrina Victims
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf coast of Louisiana causing destruction and devastation throughout the area. Field operations and relief efforts needed to be established both before and after the hurricane struck. Such relief came in the form of essential services, such as food, shelter, water, as well as medical service and care. Thousands of doctors, nurses, and pharmacists volunteered their expertise to provide medical assistance to the evacuees and other victims of the disaster.
In the days leading up to the hurricane, prescription drug access became a major public health concern. Refills of prescriptions were needed for the thousands of evacuees who were not prepared for the disaster. In crisis situations, people often forget their medications as they scramble to evacuate their homes. Therefore, even before the hurricane struck, pharmacists were needed to address the growing demand for medications. Dispensing pharmacies were set up in local shelters to provide the necessary prescriptions to evacuees. Once the hurricane hit, pharmacists were in even greater demand and were recruited to provide on-site supplies of medication to the many victims of the disaster.
Beyond medication-related activities, pharmacists were expected to perform various triage, communication, and administrative activities as well. Pharmacists assessed and treated patients for more minor injuries and ailments, and also helped patients with more major health concerns to seek medical attention. On-site pharmacists were helpful in communicating and coordinating with community pharmacies to transfer medication and medical supplies into the devastated regions. The Jefferson County Department of Health in nearby Birmingham, Alabama also requested the assistance of pharmacists to assure that all pharmaceutical needs were adequately met for evacuees in the weeks following the disaster.
Pharmacists Take an Active Role in the Japan Tsunami Relief Efforts
On March 11, 2011, an earthquake and tsunami devastated the northeast coast of Japan. With widespread devastation and loss of life, those that managed to survive needed to be evacuated from the disaster zone and provided with immediate care. Thousands of volunteers were deployed to offer relief in the aftermath of the event. Survivors needed food, water, medical supplies and medical support. With local hospitals and pharmacies destroyed, survivors either needed to be transferred inland or reached through pharmaceutical and medical relief groups and organizations.
Similar to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, pharmacists were an integral part of these early medical relief efforts. The elderly and those with chronic illnesses needed pharmacists to provide their regular medications, while victims physically harmed by the catastrophe needed medication to treat their various injuries and ailments.
An even greater strain on medical supplies came from the patients at the numerous hospitals that were wrecked by the tsunami. Medical supplies were destroyed or lost as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami that followed, leaving the elderly and the sick without necessary treatment and care. Pharmacists were critical in setting up mobile pharmacies to issue and prescribe much-needed medications. Pharmacists also were important in assessing the needs of the patients and coordinating the collection and transfer of medical supplies into the area.
While many pharmacists boarded planes bound for Japan to deliver emergency medical care directly, many others, unable to make the trip, still offered support. The pharmacy community, including both retail and community pharmacies, pooled resources that could be sent overseas to aid the victims of the disaster. These donations were crucial in the relief efforts, helping to alleviate the shortage of medicine in the coastal regions of Japan most afflicted by the devastation of the tsunami.
When examining the medical relief efforts made in the wake of both Hurricane Katrina and the Japan tsunami, it is clear that the field of pharmacy is an important player in emergency care services. Today, pharmacists are trained to master skill sets beyond just dispensing medicine. This role of pharmacists in relief efforts has expanded, and delivering global humanitarian aid has become an important part of the pharmacy profession. Pharmacy is deeply involved in addressing many major public health issues, so a career in pharmacy can go beyond your local community and extend to global impact.