Saving mums’ lives: Fullife Pharmacy

Fullife Pharmacy's sponsor kids in Ethiopia - three children smiling

Women and children’s health is often a key market for community pharmacy, as well as a key area where pharmacists can do a lot of good within their communities – but the Fullife Pharmacy group is taking it one step further.

The group, of four pharmacies in Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland, created the Fullife Foundation, which aims to support maternal and child health in Africa.

“The Foundation came out of a desire to do something practical and effective through pharmacy,” says Ian Shanks, director of Fullife Pharmacies and the Fullife Foundation.

The Fullife Foundation began working with World Vision in 2012, raising money for a food security program in Ethiopia. It also began sponsoring children, starting with 50, and now sponsoring more than 200. It’s World Vision’s single largest child sponsor in Australia.

“They’re all in Ethiopia in one area, and last year we were able to go and visit those children (pictured) – and we got to see how the money’s been used,” Shanks told the AJP.

“It was an absolutely life-changing experience. Through the children’s sponsorships you help a whole community, but specifically, we were able to help reduce maternal deaths.

“We were able to help with building infrastructure – hospitals, schools, and help some women out of poverty and into their own business through microfinance – but we’ve got a goal in the Foundation of directing our efforts towards mothers, towards women’s and children’s issues in Africa.

“We feel that Africa is where the need is – and we understand that if you want to make change there, you’ve got to work through the women. They get stuff done. And it’s something our customers connect with, as 80% are female.”

Fullife partnered with the Birthing Kit Foundation Australia to sell a safe birthing kit, which contains a plastic sheet for the mother to lie on, a scalpel blade and string to cut and tie off the umbilical, gloves for the birthing attendant, and separate pieces of gauze to wipe the baby’s eyes and the mother’s perineum; plus soap. These retail for $3 to Fullife’s customers.

In November and December, customers had the option to “buy” one from Fullife’s pharmacies.

“These kits go to the mothers at risk, and so they ended up going to mothers from the Democratic Republic of Congo, because of the Civil War there – most fled across the border into makeshift refugee camps in Uganda,” Shanks says.

“These things make a huge difference. Women deliver their babies, often without assistance, on the ground in some very difficult conditions.

“The WHO has statistics on this, and they are that the kits reduce mother’s deaths by up to 23% and they reduce infants’ deaths by up to 75%.

“Across our four pharmacies, in November and December, we were able to donate just over 11,000 kits to the Birthing Foundation. This year, we want to expand what we’re doing into more pharmacies, to have pharmacies take on our collection donation boxes and to be part of our ongoing philanthropic program.”

Funds also go to providing birthing assistance training, so the mothers can have an assisted delivery.

Fullife is currently inviting other pharmacies to take part and Shanks says he hopes that expanding its philanthropic efforts will help save even more lives.

He says that the fund-raiser was extremely well received in the Fulllife pharmacies, and that this only goes to show how much Australian consumers support community pharmacy’s role in making a difference in communities – whether their own, or in communities facing adversity overseas.

“Pharmacy has been a really good fit for what we’re doing,” he says. “We found, in the early days of the promotion, that our pharmacy assistants didn’t want to approach men because they didn’t think they’d ‘get it’.

“But we found men were often more generous than the women!

“We ran fund-raising days around this, had barbecues, bands in the carpark… we had one customer ask us whether the donations were tax deductible, and when we said they were, he said he’d like to buy 500 kits.

“We had kit-packing sessions in each of our pharmacies, and the local mayor and state politicans come in and help pack. They wanted to donate as well. It became a great community event.

“It really helped focus the community on real need, and real issues.”

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