Letters & Opinion

Pharmacist: The Forgotten Front-liners

By Troy D. Louis RPh.

I recently came across two articles, one out of the United States of America and the other from Canada. This shed light on a group of essential workers who have had to fight through barriers to get the recognition that is obvious yet not bestowed. I realised that this was not just a local or regional issue as I thought but existed in other ‘more developed’ countries too.

In today’s COVID-19 health crisis, where  all hands are on deck to ‘flatten the curve’, control the spread, and ease the strain on health care systems in the hope of eradicating this nuisance from the world, this holds true especially for pharmacies which are usually the first and last point of contact for many patients. This is more prominent in the community practice setting where many people visit their pharmacist first for guidance and or a remedy. Most times we are the ones expected to ‘fix’ the issue.

As a pharmacist in community practice and in my role as the Vice President of the Pharmaceutical Association of St Lucia (PASLInc.), I know first-hand the struggle my fellow colleagues have been faced with both on island and abroad. From the first conversations and eventual official announcement of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in December, our team has been brainstorming and preparing for the eventual spill onto our shores. Our main concerns arose out of safety; safety for our clients, safety for our colleagues and their families and how to place ourselves in the perfect position to help our Department of Health and Wellness (DoHW) in the war against COVID-19. We are after all still in most circumstances the first and last points of contact. How could our colleagues maintain their positions on the frontline safely to ensure that patients/clientele and themselves are not adversely affected? In order to get a clearer understanding, we liaised with the Pharmacy Council of St Lucia and Chief Pharmacist within the Department of Health and Wellness on ways to help guide colleagues to navigate the guidelines that may be generated in the eventual scale down of operations (as noticed by countries around the world) and/or outbreak.

Pharmacy continues to be one of the most humble professions in the world. This is indicative of the attitudes that Pharmacists have of not seeking recognition where it is due. As healthcare professionals we are fully aware of our worth and place in the sector. However, the general public perception that we simply count pills and sell cough mixtures for example is one that needs to change.

The role of the Pharmacist has expanded over the years and continues to change with each passing day. This is exemplified in the vast areas of specialisation within the profession. We are the legal drug specialists with a vast knowledge of how medicines work, their effect on the body (side effects, reactions), dosage forms and types, and pharmaceutical business among others.  Pharmacists operate in clinical, community, industrial and legal settings. We provide a link between the prescriber and patient; counter-prescribe for simple ailments; offer patient counselling and in some cases engage in blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol testing. All of which puts us in direct contact with patients who may or may not be carriers of COVID-19.

So, the question is why are these essential workers constantly being overlooked when their role is so essential to the stability of the physical and mental health imposed both directly and indirectly by COVID-19?

In the article out of Canada, the CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA), Mr Justin Bates was quoted  as saying “Pharmacists aren’t deemed essential healthcare providers like doctors and nurses, which means they aren’t considered priority for personal protective equipment, and as such they have resorted to whatever precautions they have access to, wearing surgical masks and procedural gloves if they have them, and the installation of plexiglass at counters”. In addition, Pharmacists help in identifying patients with COVID-19 symptoms and advising on what to do all while continuing to run their pharmacies and ensuring customer safety. Some, and if not all of which have been adopted in St Lucia by pharmacies across the island.

The article from the United States indicated that Pharmacists were initially left out as beneficiaries under the Helping Emergency Responders Overcome Emergency Situations (HEROES) Act of 2020 until the American Pharmacist Association (APhA) fought for their inclusion.

As part of the frontline workers, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage our Pharmacists, Pharmacy Technicians and Assistants across St Lucia and abroad to keep on fighting the good fight as we continue this war against COVID-19.

We see you!

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