A country in need

A country in need

Pharmacy students lend a hand for Haiti cholera victims

By Shayna Brouker

Pharmacy students Scott Cohen, Jason Powell, Laura Johnson, Sarah Onofrio and Danielle Pierini prepare oral rehydration kits for Haiti./Photos by Maria Belen Farias

It’s 8 a.m. on the only day of the school week they can sleep in, but 10 of them gathered here to measure, mix and package a solution that will save lives.

As Haiti suffers a cholera epidemic, UF pharmacy students and faculty are lending a hand from abroad to counteract the outbreak. With the Emerging Pathogens Institute and College of Public Health and Health Professions, they plan to send a total of 1,000 oral rehydration kits to Haiti.

Equipped with latex gloves and chipper attitudes despite the early hour, students labeled plastic bags and sorted the mixture for the first batch of 200 kits. The dry powder can be reconstituted on site with clean water.

“Essentially what we’re making is Pedialyte, but without flavor — and it costs pennies compared to other medicines,” said Paul Doering, M.S., a distinguished service pharmacy professor who supervised the students with clinical assistant professor Cary Mobley, Ph.D.

Cholera victims suffer severe diarrhea and vomiting, causing extreme dehydration within hours of infection. Early treatment with fluids is key to survival and has reportedly saved more than 90 percent of patients so far — even those on the brink of death. Forty percent of victims under the age of 5 die without rehydrants, but less than 1 percent die when treated.

Cholera is caused by an infection of microbes that thrive in unsanitary conditions, such as dirty, standing water contaminated with fecal matter. Asfar Ali, Ph.D., a UF associate professor of environmental and global health, predicted the outbreak when he visited Haiti in August and witnessed the squalid conditions in the refugee camps.

Since UF policy recently barred student travel to Haiti for safety reasons, the students want to help any way they can. After the kits were prepared, they were sent to Haiti in early November.

“I’ve been wanting to do stuff with Haiti through UF, so this is as close as I’m going to get,” said Alexia Leal, a third-year student. She is “super stoked” to go on a medical mission trip to El Salvador in March through the College of Pharmacy.

Julia Wittmann, also a third-year and membership vice president of the American Pharmacists Association — Academy of Student Pharmacists at UF, said it was the most direct way she’s been able to contribute so far. The ASP previously organized a vitamin drive to send with the college’s health outreach trips.

For other future pharmacists, it was simply a call to duty.

“This is our profession,” said Lindsay Rogers, a third-year student. “This is what we do. When you see a whole country come down with a disease, why not help?”