Role of a pharmacist in disaster management – A case study

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Introduction

We will explore the crucial role of pharmacists in disaster management. As natural disasters continue to pose significant challenges worldwide, it is essential to understand how pharmacists play a vital role in mitigating the impact of these emergencies. By providing essential medications, healthcare services, and expertise, pharmacists contribute to saving lives and promoting health in times of crisis.

United Nations’ of International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR) defines a disaster as “calamity” or a “catastrophic” event that causes serious destruction in the functioning of a community or society with widespread human, material, economic, and/or environmental loss.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), natural hazards from emergencies impact approximately 190 million people directly, leading to more than 77,000 deaths annually. Furthermore, the WHO recorded 1200 outbreaks in 168 countries during the period 2012–2017, taking into account new or reappearing infectious diseases. In 1918, the H1N1 virus caused an influenza pandemic that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) described as the harshest and most severe pandemic in recent history. It is estimated that this virus infected approximately one-third of the world’s population and caused more than 50 million deaths worldwide

Understanding disaster management

Before delving into the role of pharmacists, let’s first understand the concept of disaster management. It encompasses a range of activities aimed at preparing, responding to, and recovering from natural or man-made disasters. These disasters can include hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, pandemics, and more. Effective disaster management involves various stakeholders, including government agencies, healthcare providers, NGOs, and individuals.

Importance of pharmacists in disaster management

Pharmacists play a pivotal role in disaster management due to their specialized knowledge and skills in medication management. During emergencies, access to medications becomes crucial, and pharmacists ensure the availability, safety, and appropriate use of medications. They collaborate with other healthcare professionals to develop and implement effective medication management plans, taking into consideration the unique challenges posed by disasters.

Case study: The role of a pharmacist in a natural disaster

Pharmacists are serving for meeting the needs for drugs of the society and are trying to sustain such services in the events of disasters. They are uniquely positioned during disasters to provide healthcare continuity and medication management to affected communities. Pharmacists play a very important role in the accurate determination, provision, and use of drugs which are of particular importance in terms of medical care used by disaster victims.

Two specific examples of where pharmacists were vital in a disaster response and assisted their communities are provided.

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Anthrax Crisis

Pharmacists have been integrated into the US DMAT since 2001, as the threat of ‘acts of bioterrorism’ is believed to be imminent. The response to bioterrorism disasters requires the large-scale dispersal of antidotes and prophylaxis treatments. Pharmacists’ roles within DMATs are largely focused on procurement and logistics and maintaining the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile (NPS). The anthrax crisis in Washington D.C. in the US 2001, saw pharmacists take a leadership role in the screening process to determine treatment or prophylaxis choice based on other patient determinants such as pregnancy status, other medical conditions, ongoing medications and allergies.

Some pharmacy organisations have suggested pharmacists should become more involved in bioterrorism preparation, remaining up-to-date with the current threats and management solutions. The Anthrax scare in 2001 has seen a role emerge for pharmacists within DMATs, and in bioterrorism prevention and preparedness.

Tasmanian Bushfires

Australian research found pharmacists were essential support to affected communities during the 2012/13 Tasmanian Bushfires. The study identified a need for a review of Australian policy to recognise the primary healthcare role pharmacists’ provide, especially in disasters. Pharmacists in these communities were vital in assisting during and after the devastating bushfires. The people affected by the fires who were evacuated, left their homes without money, prescriptions, medications or identification. Community pharmacies provided the evacuees with emergency supplies of their ongoing chronic disease medications and other healthcare items to ensure continuity of care.

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The pharmacies who provided assistance during the disaster were not reimbursed by the Australian government disaster recovery funds as they were deemed to not be an essential service and provided these services of their own goodwill. Pharmacies in these situations are now being faced with the dilemma of balancing their duty of care to their patients in a time of need, against the financial implications to their business long-term of providing stock free-of- charge with no likelihood of compensation. For small, independent pharmacies there is a risk that their financial viability may be impacted.

Pharmacists play an important role in disaster management, especially in providing essential medical care to affected populations. Some of the key responsibilities of pharmacists in disaster management include:

  1. Drug and supply management: Pharmacists are responsible for ensuring that adequate supplies of essential drugs and medical supplies are available in disaster-affected areas. They also help to coordinate the distribution of these supplies to the people who need them.
  2. Clinical care: Pharmacists are trained to provide basic medical care, such as wound care and the administration of medications. They may also provide assistance with triage and the management of chronic conditions in disaster-affected populations.
  3. Education and training: Pharmacists can play an important role in educating the public about disaster preparedness and response, as well as providing training to other healthcare professionals on the appropriate use of medications and supplies in disaster situations.
  4. Collaboration with other healthcare professionals: Pharmacists work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as doctors and nurses, to provide comprehensive care to disaster-affected populations. They also collaborate with public health agencies and other organizations to coordinate disaster response efforts.
  5. Mental health support: Pharmacists can play an important role in providing support to disaster survivors who may be suffering from psychological distress, such as anxiety or depression.

Strategies for effective pharmacist involvement in disaster management

Ensuring effective pharmacist involvement in disaster management requires strategic planning and coordination. Some key strategies include:

  • Preparedness: Pharmacists should actively participate in disaster preparedness drills and trainings to enhance their knowledge and skills.
  • Collaboration: Building strong partnerships with other healthcare providers, emergency management agencies, and community organizations fosters effective teamwork and coordination.
  • Communication: Clear communication channels are crucial to conveying critical information, sharing resources, and coordinating efforts in a timely manner.
  • Continuity of care: Developing plans to ensure uninterrupted access to medications and healthcare services during and after disasters is essential for patient well-being.

Conclusion

In conclusion, pharmacists play a vital role in disaster management by ensuring the availability, safety, and appropriate use of medications. Their expertise and dedication contribute significantly to saving lives and promoting health in times of crisis. By understanding the challenges they face and implementing effective strategies, we can enhance pharmacist involvement in disaster management and strengthen overall emergency response efforts.

Reference

  • Kaitlyn E. Watson, B. Pharmacy (Hons), GradCertAppPharmPract, “The Roles of Pharmacists in Disaster Health Management in Natural and Anthropogenic Disasters” Page No 79

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