On a mission Pharmacist gives comfort in Zimbabwe

Published Mar 20, 2013 at 2:23 pm (Updated Mar 20, 2013 at 2:23 pm)

When Irina Sheyko left Pittsburgh last May on a Nyadire Connection mission trip to the United Methodist Mission in Nyadire, Zimbabwe, she was armed with experience.

Sheyko, a clinical pharmacist at Jefferson Memorial Hospital, had gone to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, so she knew about developing countries. She also had memories of her native Russia, now Kyrgyzstan, that she left some 18 years ago.

Little did she know she would be doing CHABADZA, the concept in the Shona culture that means a partnership in which a passerby stops to help one already at work.

Being a clinical pharmacist involves direct care to patients, including going on rounds with doctors who ask for advice on proper dosage and availability of drugs and therapies. And the team that went to Port-au-Prince had the same training – to be clinical pharmacists. That team lived and worked together and was rather isolated from the local population except for their work.

Nyadire was a different story. The rural mission resembles a college campus with a hospital and nursing school at one end, a church at the other, with a school system, orphanage, teachers’ college and homes in between. The mission is a medical, educational and spiritual center for thousands of people in the surrounding area.

Sheyko quickly found herself in the hospital pharmacy surrounded by shelves of hospital supplies and pharmaceuticals. She was concerned that the pharmacy and hospital supplies were mixed together, making inventory difficult. She suggested to Wilson, the capable pharmaceutical technician, that hospital and pharmacy goods be separated. The idea found opposition.

“Where would they get the space?” Wilson asked. Sheyko reconsidered her approach and felt she needed to understand how they operated. Slowly, the staff came to realize that Sheyko truly cared about the pharmacy. She was the first person who had visited Nyadire to show interest in the pharmacy and the first with her special expertise. Her support energized the staff to figure out a way to utilize an unused room for shelving and adequate space. “You decide how you want to organize the space,” Sheyko told the staff, “so it will work for you and maintain the organization.” Empowering the staff resulted in their cleaning the space and separating pharmaceuticals and medical supplies.

Sheyko’s observations continued to open new ideas and ways for the pharmacists who lived 8,400 miles from each other to form this working relationship, CHABADZA.

The Nyadire staff knew a great deal about HIV and the anti-retroviral drugs used to treat the disease. Irina was able to increase her knowledge of the disease that has impacted so much of Africa. “HIV is rarely seen in my hospital, but commonplace in Zimbabwe. Conversely, the Nyadire Hospital rarely sees hypertension or heart disease.” She also learned that the staff uses practices that reflect the scarcity of supplies. For example, when she observed the nurses giving antibiotic through injection rather than by drip, she was ready to suggest drip as a standard of practice used in the U.S. However, in Zimbabwe, plastic bags may not always be available.

A new admission to the Nyadire Hospital was an abandoned baby girl found by the one of the mission leaders and brought to the hospital. She soon found her way into the hearts and arms of the hospital staff and mission team. She was named “Gracious.” However, all were concerned – she would need milk, and in Zimbabwe babies are breast fed, but there was no mother.

Fellow mission team member and nurse at Jefferson Hospital, Sue Bower, pulled out a $20 bill and said, “This is the beginning of the fund to buy formula,” and before the team left, there was enough formula for six months. Since then, Gracious has been placed in a home, but not before receiving clothing, diapers and other items from the bags of the next mission team to arrive.

The greatest impression Sheyko received from her mission experience was the joyfulness despite the daily struggles Zimbabweans experience. “I was reminded of my home in the way people have faith, a personal connection that is sincere. One only needs to hear the singing of the children and the nurses. Would you believe the nurses at Nyadire Hospital sing in the halls before they go on duty?” asks Sheyko.

Now back on the job at Jefferson and at her Russian Baptist Church in Castle Shannon, Irina says she cannot stop thinking or talking about the Nyadire Hospital.

The mission trip was one of four sent by The Nyadire Connection (TNC), a faith-based group of volunteers who seek to support the United Methodist Mission at Nyadire. The first mission team visited Nyadire in 2006 and have gone since.

TNC has 11 programs in place including sponsorships for the Home of Hope Orphanage, the Outreach School Sponsorship Program, Rural Pastor Partnerships, Seeds of Hope, Micro-loan and others. TNC also helps to keep a doctor at the hospital, sends pharmaceuticals and medications twice a year, and containers of medical supplies and equipment with the aid of Brothers’ Brother. For more information, visit www.nyadire.org.

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