Across Southeast Asia, pharmacies are often the first point of care for the sick, especially in rural and poorer regions, because pharmacies are affordable, geographically accessible and convenient. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit this spring, pharmacists lacked the knowledge to answer the many questions they were getting about the novel coronavirus.
So the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs teamed up in Indonesia and the Philippines with mClinica, a tech startup whose SwipeRx mobile networking app includes continuing education and discussion boards for pharmacy professionals – and already had more than 75,000 users in those two countries.
Together, CCP and mClinica were able to quickly survey pharmacists and pharmacy assistants to understand what they knew about COVID-19 and to develop tools to help them better communicate facts with their clients about symptoms, transmission, risks and rumors. They are also creating continuing education courses on COVID-19 for pharmacists.
“There was a lot of misinformation going on in these communities,” says J. Douglas Storey, PhD, CCP’s director of communication science and research. “Once we analyzed the data and understood the issues, we were able to develop educational materials, correct misinformation about COVID-19 and strengthen the areas where knowledge was weakest.”
In their initial survey, the researchers found that pharmacists in Indonesia scored low, for example, on questions about symptoms of COVID-19, criteria for rapid testing, requirements for self-isolation and appropriate care-seeking at the hospital. By piggybacking on the existing SwipeRx network, missing information could be rapidly communicated to pharmacists via the mobile app – and by extension their customers – across both countries.
“Through mClinica’s SwipeRx platform, we were able to engage more than 40,000 pharmacy professionals in Indonesia quite quickly to get them the information they needed to better counsel their clients on COVID-19 and what to do if they had symptoms, where to refer them, as well as to prepare their own pharmacies to practice safely during the pandemic,” says CCP’s Robert Ainslie, senior technical advisor in Indonesia.
Dewa Ayu Agung Puspita Dewi is a pharmacist in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, who has benefited from the CCP effort. “It helps a lot,” she says. “It gives me great confidence in providing direct information to patients. For example, when patients asked for antibiotics for COVID-19, I can confidently consult the accurate information about this. For patients with severe symptoms, I refer them directly to get a check-up at the hospital.”
CCP’s COVID-19 work in 22 countries is funded by USAID.
Using data collected from a SwipeRx survey done in May on pharmacy professional knowledge, attitudes and practices related to COVID-19 in the Philippines, mClinica and CCP designed and disseminated COVID-19 awareness campaign materials targeting pharmacy professionals there.
In July alone, an estimated 184,640 Filipino pharmacy clients benefitted as a result of pharmacy professionals’ exposure to SwipeRx COVID-19 awareness campaign content. In Indonesia, which had a head start, an estimate 12 million pharmacy clients have benefitted.
Based on the May survey, CCP and mClinica have created free, accredited continuing education courses for Filipino pharmacists through the SwipeRx mobile app. Titled “What Pharmacy Professionals Should Know about COVID-19 and the New Normal,” this online module will be launched in September. Two similar education modules have been developed in Indonesia and 4,100 pharmacy professionals have already accessed it.
Georchelle Faith Darcey, a pharmacist/owner of a pharmacy in the Philippines, says she has printed out flyers directly from SwipeRx to share with her clients.
“With pharmacies being one of the few establishments still allowed to open during this pandemic, I am aware of the huge responsibility of community pharmacists like me as the first point of access when it comes to people’s health concerns,” she says.
“Not only did they [CCP and mClinica] equip me with the necessary information, but they also gave me the confidence to channel these to our customers because I know that the information I get from SwipeRx came from reputable sources.”