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Volunteering in Peru. By Our July Student Pharmacist, Ray Chu.

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I had some questions about my time in Peru after my introduction, so I wanted to share my experience with everyone about mission work!

What is the mission?

The medical mission that I have been involved with operates annually within the Ayacucho Region of Peru and is simply called Ayacucho Mission. It is organized by members of the Southern California Branch of the Peruvian American Medical Society (PAMS), and our mission is to provide evidence-based healthcare to the rural regions and indigenous populations at no cost to them.

PAMS focuses on this area of Peru because of the activities of “The Shining Path”, a terrorist group that operated in the area in the 80’s and early 90’s. The Shining Path’s goal was to overthrow the Peruvian government and they did so through brutal civil conflict. They were especially known for their violence towards peasants, trade workers, and indigenous peoples in the areas in and surrounding Ayacucho, their main area of operation. Years after they were driven out, the effects of the devastation from the conflicts can still be felt. Thousands of civilians were killed, thousands more were left disabled, and a whole generation of orphans emerged from the conflict.

The first Ayacucho mission took place in 1995, headed by Dr. Ralph Kuon. Back then, our scope was small, but focused – to repair cleft lips and palettes of children and orphans in the area.

Twenty-four years on, we have expanded greatly, providing many services including: pediatrics, family medicine, gynecology, endocrinology, urology, psychology, cardiology, physical therapy, occupational therapy, dental services, and more that I’m sure I’m forgetting. We also have year-round support for mental healthcare and diabetic patients. Our surgery services include: orthopedic surgery, reconstructive plastic surgery, general surgery. Our surgeons have even put in a pacemaker.

How are you involved?

While I was still in my undergraduate studies at the University of California, I knew that I wanted to do something in healthcare, but I didn’t know what exactly. I joined a club for pre-healthcare students and learned about different medical volunteering missions that we could participant in as students. A trip to Peru was very alluring to me, especially since I would be able to rotate with many different healthcare professionals and see what they did for patients. I was able to shadow about eight different professions on my 10 days of volunteering during my first year with Ayacucho Mission. Through the Mission, I learned about pharmacy and because of my work with them I chose to go to pharmacy school.

My first trip with PAMS Ayacucho Mission was in 2009. This past June was my tenth year of involvement with the mission. I started as a general volunteer, but this past year I had the privilege to become the Director of Pharmacy for the mission. My job was to build a pharmacy team consisting of pharmacists, techs, and translators, to decide what medications we would have on hand for the mission, and to figure out where we were going to obtain the medications. During the mission, if there was a specialty medication that a patient needed that we did not have, it was my responsibility to try my best to obtain the medication for them, either through private pharmacies, the closest hospital, the capitol city of Lima, or, in the last case scenario, by asking a late arriving volunteer to buy it in the United States to bring to us in Peru.

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What is a typical day like?

The volunteers all stayed in the city of Ayacucho, the largest city in the area. We woke up around 6 am to get ready and to eat breakfast. During that time, I worked in our supply room making sure we were bringing enough medications with us for the day’s clinic.

At 7 am, we loaded up on our busses and traveled to our clinic location. We had two villages we provided services to this past year; Acos Vinchos, which was 1.5 hours away, and Ocros, which was 2 hours away.

When we arrived at each location, the patients were already lined up outside the clinic waiting to be seen. Many of these people walked for hours to be seen, so we tried our best to see everybody or send them home early so they would not wait all day if we could not help them that day. Upon arrival, the different specialties immediately split off into our respective rooms or offices.

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In the pharmacy, we set up our medications for the day on the shelves. Unfortunately, we could not leave the medications there overnight as the building might be broken into. Patients were first seen by triage where their basic information was taken and they were assessed for what specialty or multiple specialties they needed to visit. The patients were then seen by the providers and the last stop was in the pharmacy with me.

In the pharmacy, we looked over what medications were prescribed. I asked questions of the providers if I had any and made sure all the medications were safe to be taken with each other. The pharmacy team then filled the prescriptions. After we dispensed the medications to the patient, we told the patient how to take the medications and sent them on their way.

If there was a medication that I did not have, we asked the patient to return the next day if I thought I could get it in Ayacucho or if I had to order it from other places.

Those patients requiring surgical interventions were recommended to go to the city of Ayacucho where our surgical team stays.

This process repeated for all the patients we could fit in the span of a day until we left around 3 pm. We left at three, because we did not want to be on the road when it was dark. We arrived home by 5 or 6 pm where the team then met to debrief and talk about how the clinic went that day; if there were any issues that came up and anything good that happened. Afterwards, the team split off for dinner and rest until the whole process started over again the next day.

How can I get involved?

Have I sparked your interest, or would you like to know more? I am happy to answer any questions you may have! You can visit me at Happy Druggist – West Jefferson from Monday to Friday, 9 am-6 pm (usually) or email me at chu.447@osu.edu.

Ayacucho Mission also has a website at www.AyacuchoMission.org if you’d like to go to the website directly.

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