A Wilkes University/Ugandan Exchange Program Focuses on Pharmacy

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It's not every day we get a first-hand look at the state of health care in different parts of the world, and vice versa.  Wilkes University students are getting to do that in Uganda, with a unique exchange program focusing on pharmacy.  Pharmacists are spending some time in Wilkes-Barre this summer and shared with us a bit of their perspective.

Kampala, Uganda is home to a big university in the African country, and it's a place Dr. Karenbeth Bohan never even thought of visiting.

"I think Uganda kind of chose me, rather than vice versa, back in 2008," she said.

Dr. Bohan is an Associate Professor of Pharmacy at Wilkes University in Luzerne County.  2008 was when she was asked by a colleague to assess a water and sanitation project in Uganda.

"But we didn't end up getting to Uganda until the summer of 2011. And by then I'd decided that pharmacy students could really benefit going there as well," she recalled.

They have.  Next month, Dr. Bohan will visit for an eighth time.  She shared with us photos of Wilkes University pharmacy students touring and teaching in Uganda.  But the program has now been expanded, and for the second year, Ugandan pharmacists have visited the United States, studying at Wilkes for eight weeks in the summer.

"Then they can learn the skills, see what we do here that will work in Uganda," said Dr. Bohan.

Gonsha Rehema owns a pharmacy and teaches in her native country.  The first thing she noticed here, she said, was the amount of regulation.  In the US, patients are given a limited amount of a drug with potentially the option to refill.  In Uganda, they get it all at once.

"There is a high probability that the patient is not guided well. And if patients are not guided well, in most cases they take the drug wrongly," Gonsha told us.

Gonsha says she is most fascinated by the concept of electronic medical records, which she would love to see in Uganda.

Cathy Namulindwa became interested in pharmacy as a child, when her brother fell very ill.  A nurse saved his life by giving him an injection of some sort.  She says in Uganda, having someone well-versed in drugs even at a clinic is unusual.

"There is need for pharmacists at every level of healthcare: in smaller clinics, in bigger hospitals, at community pharmacies.  This needs to be better back home," Cathy noted.

Cathy says she has been most amazed by the "gadgets" in US hospitals she has only read about in text books back home.

Here, they spend time in the classroom and at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital.  Both women say they'll do their best to take what they learn home with them.

"Knowledge is everything. Knowledge is power. It's cliche, but it's true," said Cathy.

The Ugandan pharmacists will be in Wilkes-Barre until the beginning of August.  If you're interested in seeing more, Dr. Bohan started a blog, http://www.pharmacyclassintoafrica.com.