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An Interview with Pharmacists Without Borders/Pharmaciens Sans Frontieres Canada (PSF Canada)

Dr. Lauren Tailor BSc., PharmD., MPH Epidemiology Candidate


For the last year, I have had the privilege of working with other Canadian pharmacists, interns, students, and technicians volunteering for PSF Canada. PSF


Canada, a non-profit volunteer organization, was founded in 1994 with the aim of improving pharmaceutical care and providing technical assistance to community and hospital pharmacies internationally. I was fortunate enough to interview my friend and colleague, Dr. Selina Manji BSc., PharmD., MSc., who is the Vice-President Ontario of PSF Canada.

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Selina, would you mind telling us a bit more about PSF Canada?

S: PSF is a volunteer organization made up of Canadian pharmacists to help implement and improve community and hospital pharmacies abroad. We also pride ourselves in training local health professionals with regards to proper medication usage and therapeutic optimization. As an organization, we believe that access to essential medicine, combined with education and therapeutic training is critical to improve the health of the global population.


Can you tell us a bit about your background?

S: I knew from a young age that my contribution to society would be through the science realm, particularly within the healthcare stream. My experience throughout the years also made me passionate about giving back to global communities and advocating for equitable resource allocation. I began my studies with a Bachelors of Science (BSc.) at the University of Waterloo, followed by a Doctorate of Pharmacy (PharmD.). During my doctorate degree, I started exploring different avenues where I could incorporate my passion for travel and helping people abroad with my therapeutics knowledge. It was a unique path that no pharmacist in my circle had taken. Out of all the global health programs out there, the Masters of Science (MSc.) specializing in Global Health at McMaster University was the one that spoke to me the most. It really opened my eyes to a topic that I was unfamiliar with-- global burden of disease. This concept is one that threatens public health from existing, new, and re-emerging diseases that have been spread through immigration, travel, and globalization. The foundation that was laid from this Masters also helps me to better understand my role as a practitioner in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Have you been on any global health missions?

S: In total I have played a critical role in three international missions related to global health in three very different settings. The first trip I was a part of took place in Manipal, India. This trip was an important part of my Masters, since we got an opportunity to meet our fellow colleagues that we collaborated with virtually. As a group, we visited mental health facilities, government agencies, and various stakeholder settings where key federal healthcare decisions were made. We also participated in research projects that were delivered to practitioners in the field at a symposium. I truly believe that sharing knowledge and insights is a great way to make advancements in healthcare. I consider myself very fortunate to have participated in this trip, and it piqued my interest to continue helping out in more global health endeavours.


My second mission was to Kisumu, Kenya with a multidisciplinary healthcare team as part of the organization 'Bridge to Health'. As the pharmacist within the team, I worked closely with the physicians, nurses, social workers, and dentists to set up mobile clinics in the rural communities of Kisumu. Two major goals we worked towards as a team were improving maternal and child health, and facilitating screening programs for cervical cancer. Our team was the first to launch specialized programs through point of care ultrasound. This means that local practitioners can conduct ultrasounds at many different clinic sites with the same machine. Results are delivered rapidly to improve overall healthcare efficiency measures. I was really excited to be part of a program that was the first of its kind, and continue to follow up with the pharmacy team in Kisumu.


How do you think COVID-19 will affect global health missions for PSF?

S: We must recognize that having a generic approach to the pandemic is inequitable in having the most drastic positive impact we're hoping to see. The pandemic will cause a domino effect to many aspects of global health systems, mainly through inability to access routine healthcare. Thus, it is critical for organizations that have a responsibility to help nations in need to adapt our best in order to mitigate this domino effect.


I truly believe that using virtual platforms such as MS Teams, Zoom and Google+ Hangouts will all be playing key roles in future global health missions. During my time at McMaster university, I was exposed to a whole new concept of virtual meetings, and was enlightened by how much knowledge transfer can happen from a simple video call. By setting up infrastructure to host these virtual meetings, we can better help healthcare workers and hospitals care for their patients. We now live in a world where emerging infectious diseases cause rapid outbreaks at an unprecedented rate, and we must work collaboratively to build stronger health systems to address the epidemic, without compromising routine care for all.

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During the pandemic, PSF Canada developed 6 global health webinars, ranging from Mental Health to Racial Disparities in Health Care. The team has also been conducting virtual missions in Bangladesh, India, Madagascar, and Poland. These virtual missions have involved training programs, inventory assessment, and program development (e.g. an antimicrobial stewardship program) for international pharmacy departments.


To learn more about PSF Canada, go to psfcanada.org and check out our social media pages at @PSFCanada.


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