Meghana Aruru, assistant professor of administrative sciences at Roosevelt University’s College of Pharmacy, partnered with an Illinois-based group called “Little By Little” that organizes medical mission trips to Haiti. The group also provides medical assistance and educates Haitians on healthcare and wellness.
Aruru took the group’s initiative further when she partnered with the group and organized a trip to Haiti for two of her students last spring.
“What I thought was interesting is that Haiti had that massive earthquake, and a lot of people were displaced, maimed, injured, killed,” said Aruru, who has been involved in education and help since she was a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “There are a lot of issues about healthcare, even before the earthquake with Haiti.”
According to the Disasters Emergency Committee, 350,000 people were affected by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck the area near the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince Jan. 12, 2010.
The Glenview-based group “Little By Little” partnered with the Haitian organization Mountain Top Ministries that allocates medical trip specialists in its clinic in a place called Gramothe, which is located about three hours away from Port-au-Prince. Mountain Top Ministries provides a place where interpreters, clerks and assistants can help foreign medical aid groups to serve and examine local residents.
According to Aruru, pharmacy remains one of the main issues in post-earthquake Haiti, as medical aid groups are comprised mostly of physicians, nurses and high school or college students who know little to nothing about how to handle medications. Therefore, the medical aid groups are not qualified to educate local people on what drugs they need to take.
“Inventory turned out to be one of their biggest issues, because they were not able to keep a track of how many medications were being donated and brought in,” Aruru said. “I ended up helping them come up with a low-cost inventory solution, where they bought a bar code scanner and were going to print their own bar codes. You attach it to the computer, and it downloads the entire inventory on a spreadsheet so you know exactly what you have, what you don’t have, what’s expired.”
Before she implemented the new system, Aruru had to take Haiti’s problem of literacy into account.
“From a provider’s standpoint, we always want to make sure our patients know what it is that they are supposed to take, how they are supposed to take it, how many times a day they are supposed to take it,” Aruru said. “Especially in a country like Haiti, there is no follow up whatsoever … It’s not possible for a medical trip physician to track those patients.”
After discussing the situation with “Little By Little,” Aruru suggested using pictorial drug labels instead of written ones.
These labels show how and when medication is to be taken, whether it should be taken with food or without and any precautions.
As a result of a pilot study, Aruru managed to make labels for 30 percent of 200 drugs that were on registry.
In January 2013, two pharmacy students, Gordana Milosevic and Bill Hunych went to Haiti to continue Aruru’s endeavor and evaluate the efficacy of the new system.
“Seventy percent of the patients said they prefered the newer labels,” Aruru said of the research. “We asked the people who said they preferred the old labels … and [they] ended up saying this is what they are used to. We found out they were actually older people. … Bill and Gordana came back, they presented it to the Roosevelt community, talked about it and since then, we’ve gathered a lot of attention.”
In January 2014, Aruru is going to Haiti with first-year pharmacy student Tim Fitzpatrick to continue work on labeling and see what other purposes she can serve.
“My agenda is to evaluate the inventory management system that I put in place, to see how well it’s working, to evaluate labeling that was put in place, to roll out more labels and to consult with other groups within Haiti to see what their specific needs are and to see how I can help to fulfill those needs,” she said.
Aruru said she wants to expand the program to let other majors participate in the medical trips, but she faces a financial challenge. Although “Little By Little” helps to book tickets and accommodations, her trips to Haiti remain voluntary, as Aruru has to pay for the airfare, lodging and meals.
“I pay out of pocket for my own expenses: for the flight and everything else,” Aruru said. “Once a year is about my goal to go, for now, and then depending on if I get funding, ramp it up a little bit.”
After sending the two pharmacy students to Haiti, Aruru hopes to inspire other majors to go to Gramothe, as these trips take place in January, May, October and December.
“Although this is a medical mission, the main focus of the trip is on humanitarian services, but the group is trying to go above and beyond just medical help,” Aruru said.
“If we can get even arts and sciences students—anybody really who has interest in volunteering, we can accommodate them and then I can look into what their specific lead is, where they would fit as of what the organization’s interests are and then devise a project for them.”
The medical trips last one week, and the group adheres to a strict protocol that states what needs to be done.
Apart from trying to encourage Roosevelt students to participate in the project, Aruru will try to accomplish a set of plans she has outlined for the January trip. She said evaluating the inventory management system, collaborating with other groups and proposing a waste management system are her top priorities for the next trip.
According to Aruru, going to Haiti is a one-of-a-kind experience that gives students a chance not only to explore a new country but also to make a change in the lives of those who rely on external sources to cope with the aftermath of an earthquake.
“If you really want to help and you want to explore the world outside — it’s a great place to go to,” Aruru said. “It’s absolutely a wonderful, energizing experience. You will see poverty like you have never seen it before, you will see helplessness like you have never seen it before, despair like you have never seen before. But at the same time, it’s a very feel-good situation because you feel like you are there, you can help. It’s very empowering.”