To fast or not to fast

The fanoos (Arabic for lantern) is used as a decorative item during Ramadan.

Do pharmacists need training in cultural sensitivity? 

Australian pharmacists require more training in cultural sensitivity and clinical implications of religious requirements, say researchers who interviewed patients with diabetes who undertake the fast of Ramadan.

Community awareness needs to be raised about the role of pharmacists in assisting medication use and adjustment during fasting periods, the academics say.

Researchers from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Pharmacy interviewed 25 fasting patients with Type 2 diabetes.

They revealed “several issues that need to be addressed”, including:

  • Patients adjusting their medication use during Ramadan, often without medical consultation;
  • A majority committing to fasting despite the need to take anti-diabetic medications and despite experiencing adverse events;
  • A feeling that health care professionals might not be aware of the importance of Ramadan.    

“In our study sample, it was clear that many patients prioritised fasting over their health,” the authors said.

“Awareness about such decision-making and prioritisation is important for health professionals and perhaps also for spiritual advisors.”

Cultural competence of health care professionals about the religious practices of groups in their community would be an ideal solution to address some of the issues, the authors said.  

Pharmacists have a significant role to play in community education in this regard, they said, especially in aiding patients with a chronic condition such as Type 2 diabetes, who are observing a practice such as Ramadan that involves a month-long abstinence from food during daylight hours.

“Community pharmacists need to be trained about the unique religious and sociocultural issues of patients with diabetes opting to observe spiritual rituals such as the Ramadan fast,” the authors said.  

A recent study indicated pharmacists in multicultural areas of Sydney were “reluctant to broach this topic [Ramadan] with their patients as they perceived it to be a sensitive one. Some pharmacists indicated that religion/religious practices are a patient’s private matter.”

Such “underlying attitudinal issues” need to be addressed in health professional training to ensure confidence to approach patients about their values and spiritual needs in relation to their health needs, the authors said.

Ramadan begins this year on Saturday 27 May.

The research was published in the journal Ethnicity & Health.  

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