UNC pharmacy student Michael Chargualaf learned firsthand why Malawi is known as the “Warm Heart of Africa.” In June 2014, he traveled there along with fellow pharmacy student Jordan McNair, and instructors Amanda Corbett, PharmD, and Daniel Forrister, PharmD. The trip exposed Chargualaf to pharmacy practices in a developing country.
“The overall experience in Malawi was extremely humbling and enlightening,” Chargualaf says. “The Malawian people that we met along the way were very kind-hearted and welcoming.”
This inaugural trip was a pilot to prepare for an ambitious program being launched by the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, called the Global Pharmacy Scholars (GPS) Program, in an effort to expand global experiential training for pharmacy students. The School of Pharmacy’s Global Engagement Fellow David Steeb, Pharm D, spearheaded development of the program. Corbett says six students will travel to Malawi this summer, two each month from June to August.
“The goal is to give UNC pharmacy students a global, experiential education,” Corbett says. “We also identified four sites in Malawi where we could offer our assistance long-term and we will continue our work with these partners.”
Relationships established with UNC Project Malawi leaders over many years include Mike Cohen, MD; Irving Hoffman, PA, MPH; Mina Hosseinipour, MD, MPH; and Francis Martinson, MD, PhD, as well as relationships developed this past year including Innocent Mofolo, MSc; Dorothy Sichali, Wilberforce Mhango, and many, many others. In addition, UNC works with many partners in Lilongwe, Malawi, including Kamuzu Central Hospital, Lighthouse Trust, Bwaila Hospital and the District Health Center. Many individuals from these programs were instrumental in making the pilot project a success, including Tadala Hamisi, Sam Phiri, MSc, PhD; Colin Speight, MBChB; and Rose Chikumbe.
During last summer’s pilot of the program, the team visited the District Health Center’s medication dispensary in Lilongwe. Corbett says the office faces challenges including a broken printer and no cooling system to control the temperature of medications.
“The people working at the district office were incredibly warm and helpful,” Corbett says. “They wanted to do the right thing, but they lack the resources.”
The pharmacy team also had the opportunity to visit the University of Malawi College of Medicine Pharmacy Department in Blantyre and establish connections with Department Chair Nettie Dzabala and Professor Lutz Heide among other faculty members. The team learned a lot about each of the respective pharmacy programs and agreed to continue collaborations in the future.
“I had an amazing experience in Malawi. I learned so many new things about the country, the people, and their health care system. It reaffirmed my career interests in public health, but really elucidated the opportunities in infectious disease as well,” says McNair. “A powerful and sustainable pharmacy influence is greatly needed in Malawi. Medication experts who can provide guidance on research and drug regimens and who can be accessible to the thousands of people who get lost in the system would be of great public health benefit as well as financial benefit to the country.”
Also while in Malawi last year, the UNC pharmacists and pharmacy students gave two lectures on conditions commonly treated in Malawi – HIV and cancer. Corbett presented on antiretroviral therapy, discussing side effects and proper dosing. Chargualaf focused on cancer treatment. He and Corbett also joined physicians on rounds at the Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH). Unlike hospitals in the United States where a variety of medications for each condition are readily available, Corbett says KCH clinicians need to check each day what drugs are available in the hospital pharmacy before ordering medications for their patients.
Still, Chargualaf was able to roll up his sleeves and help. He mixed chemotherapy drugs with KCH pharmacists.
“I strongly believe that it is important to all future pharmacists to be culturally competent and have the ability to connect and assist people from diverse backgrounds, even if they chose not to become involved with global health in their ultimate career,” Chargualaf says. “I believe pharmacists can impact and influence patient lives in more ways than medication safety and management. To do this, we all need to be culturally competent.”