BEIRUT: On the frontline of the pandemic, community pharmacies in Lebanon resort to a variety of precautionary measures to avert the contraction of the disease from possibly-infected visitors for both their staff and clients.
Community pharmacies are often the initial reference point within the health system for people with health concerns, be it in the form of the supply of credible information and advice or the prescription of pharmaceuticals.
However, with the spread of the infectious COVID-19, the medical responsibilities of pharmacists are no longer limited to merely fostering their clients’ health and safety, but also their own.
As Dr. Cybele Abou Khalil (Pharm D) told Annahar, pharmacists play a key role in preventing the spread of any disease, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Particularly in Lebanon, patients tend to first rush to pharmacies asking for health advice before going to doctors,” Abou Khalil said, adding that in light of the pandemic, it falls under the responsibility of pharmacists to advise their visiting patients based on scientific and rational evidence while encouraging them to “not be driven by pandemic panic.”
Abou Khalil also explained that since infection can occur from asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic individuals, precaution is recommended with all customers and patients entering the pharmacy.
According to the interviewed pharmacists, the Order of Pharmacists of Lebanon (OPL) has been greatly active in following the pandemic challenges on a daily basis and ensuring that all concerns and complaints of the Lebanese pharmacists’ community are heard.
Abou Khalil added that the OPL is also making sure to “control the black market prices of the masks and gloves.”
As Pharmacist Doctor Charbel Jarjour told Annahar, the prices of medical face masks and gloves were certainly going through the roof for a certain period of time in Lebanon because of a shortage in their availability.
“However, Lebanon is no longer facing any shortage of stock for face masks and gloves because many local companies are producing them, and others are importing them from abroad, thus increasing the competition in the market,” Jarjour explained, adding that pandemic profiteers no longer have any excuse to charge soaring prices for these products.
"Due to the pandemic, importing supplies has become much more challenging and expensive, and the lack of freight availability has tripled the prices of shipping fees, also delaying the shipments," a source in pharmaceutical imports also told Annahar.
Imported products from abroad are being paid for with fresh money, therefore high inflation of prices on everything must be expected.
Nevertheless, pharmacies must not “abuse the prices on the highly demanded sanitization products to make them affordable for everyone,” the source that requested anonymity said.
The OPL has been regularly publishing press releases and guidelines for local pharmacies to execute in the interest of preserving the health and safety of both pharmacists and their visiting clients.
“As soon as Lebanon confirmed its first coronavirus case, we began implementing the necessary precautionary measures charged by the OPL,” Jarjour said.
The most recent statement by the OPL requires of Lebanese pharmacists and owners of pharmacies to follow strict protective measures, such as wearing a surgical facemask throughout all working hours, placing a hand sanitizer at the entrance of the pharmacy and asking clients to sanitize before entering, maintaining a distance of 1.5 meters with the patients and between patients themselves, and placing a Plexiglass shield on the edge of the counter as a barrier between staff and patient.
Some pharmacists are also temporarily abstaining from providing clinical services that require direct contact with patients, such as measuring blood pressure and glucose level, as Abou Khalil indicated.
“It is preferable to not allow more than three people in a pharmacy of 80 m²,” she said, adding that access to paramedical products like cosmetic creams which are in the public area of the pharmacy is no longer allowed patient access during this time.
As for the handling of money, pharmacy staff members are constantly disinfecting their hands and the credit card machine with alcohol-based solutions before dispensing the needed items and after dealing with money.
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