Members of Cedarville’s School of Pharmacy are partnering with ministry initiatives in Belize and Ghana to serve the underserved. Cedarville students from all academic disciplines are encouraged to integrate their academic studies with mission work by the university’s biblical foundation and gospel focus, and pharmacy students and faculty are serving via medicine.
Tiffany Zehel is a third-year professional pharmacy student in the School of Pharmacy at Cedarville. Zehel, who grew up in Cleveland, has attended Cedarville for both her undergraduate and graduate studies.
During the summer of 2015, Zehel visited Belize on a medical missions trip through the organization International Servants. She said International Servants encouraged its members to ask their supporters for donations of over-the-counter medications.
These medications are bundled into packages called Pastor Packs, which are given to pastors planted in Belize by International Servants. The donated medications included in the packs prevent disease and sicknesses in the areas the pastors serve.
While the missionaries from International Servants were in Belize, they stayed at the home of a local pastor, and it was here that the group realized the importance of the Pastor Packs, Zehel said. The pastor informed the group that his child had once had a high fever, but since the village had neither a physician nor any drugs like Tylenol to lower the fever, the child suffered brain damage and today has mental deficits.
Zehel said most people she interacted with back in the U.S. didn’t understand the significance of the Pastor Packs. However, this led her to consider Cedarville’s pharmacy program as a way to help.
“As the School of Pharmacy, we could see the importance of what medications they need and how much they need,” she said. “We could really minister to them in that way. I thought that it was a niche that the School of Pharmacy could help out on.”
Zehel then developed the Pastor Pack Drive, a project through which Cedarville pharmacy students can donate specific over-the-counter medications that will be sent to Belize in the summer of 2016. Initially Zehel only asked pharmacy students to donate, but she said she is considering opening the drive to the whole campus. A team of five students is helping Zehel with the project.
When she began the Pastor Pack Drive, Zehel said she received a formulary of specific drugs that were needed from International Servants. A formulary is an official list that gives details about medications that may be prescribed.
Zehel said she has asked Cedarville pharmacy students to donate the exact items on this list so the pastors receive the medications they need and the cost of shipping the Pastor Packs is minimal. The list includes antibiotic ointment, hydrocortisone cream, diaper rash cream, toothpaste, Tylenol and Imodium.
Zehel said she hopes the Pastor Pack Drive will create connections between Cedarville students, International Servants and the pastors in Belize.
“I hope that Cedarville can establish a connection with International Servants and their ministry,” she said. “I had a positive experience there.”
Zehel said International Servants needs pharmacists and pharmacy students to travel to Belize during the summer. She said she acted as the pharmacist during her trip to Belize, and she witnessed many Belizeans who misunderstood or confused different drugs. She said the Pastor Packs will help the local physicians prescribe the correct medication to each patient and will prevent the missionaries with International Servants from having to supply the medications on their own.
Zehel said the best way for Cedarville students to understand the need behind the Pastor Packs is to hear personal stories of Belizeans. Just as the pastor’s child suffered brain damage from an untreated fever, another child suffered severe dehydration because there was no available anti-diarrhea medication available, she said.
“This is why it (Pastor Packs) needs to happen,” Zehel said.
Reaching out in Ghana
But Pastor Packs aren’t the only initiative by which the School of Pharmacy is serving others in a distant country.
Phillip Thornton, the vice chair of experiential programs and associate professor of pharmacy practice at Cedarville, went on a medical missions trip to Ghana, Africa, through the organization International Needs Feb. 11-21.
Thornton said his friend Phil Black, a retired pharmacist from Beavercreek and advisory council member of Cedarville’s School of Pharmacy, connected him with the organization. Black has traveled to Ghana for six consecutive years, but this year was the first time Thornton was able to make the trip as well, he said.
Thornton said International Needs has a unique method of ministering to those in foreign countries. The organization establishes a local chapter in each country that it ministers to, Thornton said, so the recent mission trip involved working closely with the International Needs Ghana chapter.
Thornton and others on the mission trip interacted with a local Ghanaian pastor, who works closely with International Needs Ghana and lets the organization know what medical supplies are needed. This pastor travels from village to village to minister spiritually to the local people but also to ascertain each community’s medical needs.
Because of the poor living conditions and lack of proper medical care, Thornton said that the Ghanaian people often have untreated and spreading disease. The Volta River is the people’s main source of water, but since the water is often contaminated by sewage, over 99 percent of the people have worms.
Thornton said the missionary team primarily worked on deworming the Ghanaians, treating infections, providing pain relief and dispensing vitamins. However, he said the people have no way to receive treatment for chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
“That’s heartbreaking to me,” Thornton said. “They just don’t have the ability to get to a doctor or get medicine.”
Although it seems as if the medical needs in Ghana far surpass the available care, International Needs is not the only group working to improve the Ghanaians’ health.
Robert Doh, a Ghanaian physician and a Christian, opened a care center called the Cedar Clinic in 2014. Located in the town of Hohoe in the Volta Region of Ghana, the clinic provides medical care to many people who previously received little-to-no care.
Thornton said that although the town has a hospital, it severely lacks modern technology and medical services. Thornton said Doh saw this need in his hometown and decided to create his own solution.
“His whole focus is that he’s using this as a ministry to God,” Thornton said. “He’s able to develop relationships and share the gospel during that time.”
Thornton said Doh also has a bigger mission for the Cedar Clinic. He has purchased the land on which the clinic was built and plans to soon build a hospital there. The hospital, Thornton said, would meet the specific needs of Doh’s patients.
From Cedarville to the Cedar Clinic
Thornton said Cedarville pharmacy students have helped both Doh and Black in their mission work in Ghana. Last year, students raised money to purchase an ultrasound machine and other medical equipment for Doh’s clinic. This year, three pharmacy students have worked to develop a formulary list and medication labels for Black to take back to the clinic.
Third-year professional pharmacy students Jordan Long, Trevor Stump and Mallory Thompson have worked together on this project.
Long, who has worked on this project for three years and coordinated the students’ efforts, said that each fall Black sends him a list of the medications that will travel to Ghana. Long’s role, he said, is to create a formulary for the medications along with a set of pre-made labels for each medication.
Black takes all of these supplies to the Cedar Clinic when he returns to Ghana each year. The formularies help the physicians know which medications they can or cannot prescribe, and the labels help the pharmacists dispense medications faster, Long said.
“Really it’s for efficiency purposes, so they can see as many patients as they need to and they can get the medications that all these patients need,” Long said.
Helping with this project has enhanced Long’s perspective of mission work, he said.
“I see the impact that people can have for missions trips here, domestically, and how they can impact and support the groups that go (overseas),” he said. “It’s not all about the seven days you spend in (another) country. It’s how you prepare mentally, physically, spiritually and with the proper equipment.”
Long said he hopes to go to Ghana to work with Black after becoming a pharmacy practitioner.
As Cedarville students and professors have interacted with Doh and Black many times, Thornton said he hopes Doh can one day visit Cedarville and speak to the students about his work and ministry.
“I would love to have him talk to anybody in the health professions just to see what you can do, in short-term or long-term missions,” Thornton said.
Kjersti Fry is a sophomore pharmacy major and campus news editor for Cedars. She enjoys playing piano and ultimate frisbee and spending time with friends and family.