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Touro students help with health camps in India

5/23/2013, 4:18 p.m.
The women who had come to the makeshift "health camps" to see the student pharmacists...
Touro students help with health camps in India

The women who had come to the makeshift "health camps" to see the student pharmacists from Harlem had been experiencing ongoing pain in their bones. Some were so thin that their gaunt arms would not hold a blood pressure cuff. One man had collected so many medications that he stuffed them into two shopping bags and brought them to the camp to be sorted, identified and ultimately thrown away.

"He had no idea what he was taking, or the expiration dates of his drugs," said Steven Elrod, a doctor of pharmacy candidate at Harlem's Touro College of Pharmacy. "He had ten years of medications. Many were not needed. At the end, he left with one small Ziploc bag."

Elrod was one of six Touro pharmacy students who, along with three faculty members, recently ventured to the slums of India. The group spent four weeks in the poor neighborhoods of New Delhi and Agra, where most of the residents lack access to primary health care. They screened residents for hypertension, diabetes and pulmonary impairment. Residents needing treatment were referred to medical services, and attempts were made to counsel them on how to improve their health, prevent disease and use their medications properly.

"The students were well-prepared for their work in India by the public health courses and training that is part of our curriculum and by prior rotations addressing the needs of disadvantaged communities, a commitment of the Touro College of Pharmacy," said Dr. Audrey Jacobson, professor and director of public health education, practice and research at the college, who helped lead the trip.

In India, the Touro group collaborated with the Urban Health Resource Center (UHRC), a non-profit organization in New Delhi that works to improve health of the urban poor living in slums and settlements. The Touro students screened about 350 patients (more than twice as many as anticipated) and created a database of proper medications that they left behind so that the UHRC could help residents obtain appropriate medications.

In addition to Elrod, the other students participating were Glenn Morataya, Ravi Shah, Jillian Brown, Jessica Cate and Danny Tea. The students worked under the supervision of Dr. Jacobson; Dr. Dipan Ray, director of practice experience; and Dr. Ronnie Moore, senior director of practice experience.

The students showed unflagging dedication, working 10 to 14-hour days under physically trying conditions, often going without lunch and falling ill themselves. Sanitation was poor and the air was heavily polluted. Supplies ran short and the hurdles--cultural differences and language barries--were many. UHRC staff helped the group understand some of the differences, taught them Hindi and helped them educate and counsel patients about available treatment options.

Still, the students recall the many challenges. Patients were seen in living rooms, where families rearranged their furniture to accommodate the screenings, or small rooms resembling college dormitories. The conditions--limited space and privacy, coupled with language barriers--were not ideal for patient interviews, blood pressure readings and counseling. Translators assisted in the efforts to break the language barriers.

Often patients did not return for counseling, and when they did, they did not always follow the advice. "No one knew the concept of a one-month supply and adherence," said Shah. "Medications were cheap, but not many knew how to take them properly," said Morataya.