Howard University > Howard University Health Sciences in Haiti 2012

                    The Pharmacy, the Heart of Health Care for Haitians During Medical Mission

Many Haitians cannot afford even the simplest medication on their modest budgets.  So, the pharmacy was a beehive of activity, filling more than 500 prescriptions on the first day." View more photos >>

FORT-LIBERTÉ, Haiti (June 27) – By the time the pharmacy team arrives at 8:30 a.m., there is already a long line of 30 or more anxious, but orderly Haitians waiting outside their door, waiting to get their prescriptions filled. 

They will become less orderly as the day progresses, as temperatures rise to the daily mid-90s, tempers grow short and the fear that they might not get their medications sets in.

Possibly no medical service brought by medical mission here is more cherished by local residents than the pills, ointments, creams, fluids, injections and other medicine that the team dispenses from a sweaty 20- by 12-foot room inside Fort Liberté Hospital

The free medication is supplied by the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians (NOAH) and the Haitian American Alliance (HAA).   Howard faculty and medical students this year helped the groups organize and staff the pharmacy.

Medicine, prescription and over-the-counter, is like gold to Haitians, because few can afford to pay for the aspirin, vitamins, hypertension or diabetes medicine, anti-fungal medication, antibiotics and an array of other medications that they so desperately need.

Consequently, the pharmacy is a beehive of activity as it tries to meet the requests of anxious Haitians.

At the pharmacy’s front door, a friendly but unsmiling Alfred Jimmy, a bilingual Haitian, handles the crush of the crowd, shouting out the names of patients so they can pick up their prescriptions.  Inside, workers scurry to fill the prescriptions and pepper the NOAH/HAA pharmacy director, Roopali Sharma, with questions about what doctors’ scribbled prescriptions mean and how to interpret them so they can give patients the right instructions.

“I can’t read this writing,” one says.  “What does this mean?”

“Write it as one table every eight hours,” Sharma responds.

“Do we have any more Imodium?” another shouts.

“No,” she answers.  “Give them this.”

Sharma is a pharmacist, assistant professor of Pharmacy at Long Island University and an adjunct pharmacy professor at SUNY Downstate College of Medicine.  This is her fifth trip to Fort Liberté with NOAH.

This is the busiest she has ever seen the pharmacy, largely because this year, thanks to Howard, there are more physicians than ever.

On the first day, pharmacy workers filled 500 prescriptions and handed out 300, Sharma said.  Additionally, she said, they gave out 700 condoms.  They plan to give out more than 3,000 condoms on the last day before returning home.

Today, the numbers are just as large as the day before.

“There’s a sense of desperation among the people waiting in line,” Sharma said, “because they are afraid they won’t get served before we leave.”
Consequently, patients sometimes come with outrageous stories about why they need to be jumped ahead in the line, Sharma said with a smile.
One patient, for instance, said she had to get her emergency prescription right away, she recalled.  The “emergency” prescription turned out to be vitamins.
“It’s understandable,” she said.  “These are very poor people who have almost no health care, and what healthcare they have is suboptimal.”

NOAH and HAA have purchased $8,000 in medicine to be given to the residents and more was donated by Americares and physicians with samples from pharmaceutical companies.

And when they leave, Haitians with little or no money will have to go back to paying what little they have for the medicine they need.  In many cases, they will simply go without it.

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Stories and Photograhs by Ron Harris, Howard University