Students give aid to Romania

Fifteen PharmD students from the Keck School of Pharmacy embarked on an outreach trip to rural Romania to deliver much-needed medical care to citizens, according to USC News. Dr. Naomi Florea, an associate professor of clinical pharmacy, organized the two-week trip in July as part of the school’s Global Health Initiative. Three physicians and several Romanian translators accompanied the students

According to World Bank estimates, 70 percent of rural Romanians live below the poverty line, and healthcare services are lacking. The pharmacy students packed 850 pounds of medication into their suitcases before flying to the Eastern European country, according to a USC release. Tam Phan, a third-year pharmacy student who was in the program, described their journey.

“We each packed one suitcase full of medications,” Phan said. “We packed some toiletries in a carry-on, but it was mostly medication. It was scary going through security, although the Romanian government knew that we were coming and we had approval.”

The team treated 600 patients during their stay between the cities of Jilava and Burcioaia, according to Phan. Many of the patients had chronic diseases which required urgent care, and the lack of adequate healthcare and infrastructure meant that the patients who came for treatment from the students had advanced issues.

The USC students were aided by three Romanian physicians and Romanian medical students who often acted as translators. They treated patients with “chronic diseases, including diabetes, asthma, congestive heart failure and parasitic infections common in the agricultural region,” according to a press release by the USC School of Pharmacy.

“There was no electricity in parts of the town,” Phan said. “All of the drinking water was from wells, so a lot of the cases we saw were fungal infections, parasitic infections. I work at the pharmacy at USC where we stand behind a counter and treat people, but there people came in with very urgent cases that needed medical attention.”

The patients were mostly suffering from diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and infections, which the team treated with a bevy of medications. The pharmacy students also heard the personal stories of the patients. Phan mentioned a boy who was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia when it actually turned out that he was watching horror films at night.

“This child was having night terrors, so the doctor diagnoses him with schizophrenia, and gives him antipsychotic medication,” Phan said. “But he comes to our clinic and we find out that he has been watching scary movies at night.”

Another family who had visited Phan’s clinic informed him of the trafficking problem in their country, a social issue that team encountered with one of the younger patients, according to the USC statement.

“This woman, she comes with her mother and four kids who all look very innocent,” Phan said. “I was doing her mother’s physical when she told us that many kids are subjected to trafficking in many parts of Romania and sometimes they would be sold for sexual purposes or organ donations.”

The trip to Romania is one of several global health trips that Florea has organized during her tenure at USC. Florea hopes to help pharmacy students to enact real-world change, according to a USC statement.

“In the U.S. they think pharmacists are people behind the CVS counters handing out medication, but here were are dealing with real-life issues. It gives another face to pharmacy,” Phan said.

Another third-year pharmacy student, Ryan Hays, relished in the experience he gained while out in the field, although he described the conditions of Romania as much worse than he had expected.

“I didn’t expect it to be so bad, not to the extent that we saw. They didn’t have the health basic education that we do in the U.S.,” Hays said. “But you learn a lot more when you’re out there, it’s way better than staring at a textbook or a presentation.”