Dispensing Rational Medicines in Gambia

Qudsiya Siddiqui

Feb 26th, 2020

The Gambia is in the midst of a public health crisis, with a shortage of skilled health workforce and a rapid increase of counterfeit medicines has left the poverty-stricken Gambians with no access to quality medical care.

In recognition of the problems The Gambians are facing, IMANA Medical Relief (IMR) in partnership with The Oasis Initiative organized their first-ever medical mission to the country. Dr. Ghalib Abbasi, Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) from Houston traveled with a five-member volunteer team on an IMR sponsored mission — SaveGambia; to the capital city, Banjul from Jan. 24 – Feb. 1, 2020.

Dr. Ghalib Abbasi (center) with his local pharmacy technicians who assisted him in the pharmacy/ The Gambia 2020
Making an Impact

Under the blazing hot sun, patients lined up early in the morning until late in the evening for an opportunity to share their health concerns, in hopes of accessing the right medicine. Towards the end of the week-long mission, a whopping 807 patients in ill health were provided life-saving consultation and free medicines through IMR.

“We saw the impact of this mission on the patient’s life, their grateful reactions, and each one would raise their hands up in the sky, speak Wolof in supplication to Allah (SWT) and, people near [the clinic] would reply in unison Ameen,” said Dr. Abbasi.

Dr. Abbasi was left speechless watching this selfless act unfold in front of him. The Gambians were making Dua for our volunteers and donors, as they finally received the health care they desperately needed.

Providing Safe Options in an Unregulated Market

The Gambia is Africa’s smallest non-island nation and the most densely populated country. Due to weak regulations and lack of enforcement within the marketplace, Gambians are susceptible to the readily available fake medicines at their disposal.

Taking a stand against the proliferation of counterfeit drugs, the IMR team brought brand name medicines from the UK and Germany that are safe for patients. Because a local pharmacy was providing medications from an unknown source to the public, right in front of the clinic; Dr. Abbasi and his local pharmacy technicians made the decision to dispense the medication at a different location. A new system was established, a taxi service was arranged for our patients, and families were efficiently taken back and forth to receive the free medicine we provided.

Connecting With the Community

Highly driven and motivated, Dr. Abbasi and the volunteers worked twelve hours a day to provide medical aid. He recalls, “I was ready to work eight extra hours, because of the satisfaction you see on the locals’ faces, it energized us to work harder and care for every single patient that walked through those [clinic’s] doors.” He was blessed to converse with every single patient and learn about their struggles. 

“The most asked question was, when would we back?”

Through his patient interactions, Dr. Abbasi learned just how unaware the local residents are about essential health care resources. An elder woman low-spiritedly questioned Dr. Abbasi, “Will I ever be able to test my blood sugar?”  He had the opportunity to educate her that equipment was available for sugar testing in the comfort of your home and did not require a visit to the hospital. Since many families cannot afford hospital visits, simple blood sugar testing was being missed due to delays in health check-ups, leading to negative effects on their wellbeing. 

He dispensed multiple glucose monitor kits, asthma inhalers, and Spacers (aero chamber) to help children breathe in and out easily. He witnessed kids with throat and ear infections. He saw how their parents were just so thankful to finally have the right diagnosis and medication. 

Working in The Gambia and meeting the locals, Dr. Abbasi realized he was able to help them out to the best of his ability, and truly make a change in someone’s life.