World news wrapup: 3 April 2020

British pharmacist dies from COVID-19; Canadian pharmacy owner fights for locals; US health workers allegedly told not to speak out about conditions

East Sussex, England: Tributes are pouring in for Pooja Sharma, a pharmacist who has recently lost her life to COVID-19 – as did her father, Sudhir Sharma.

The Sun reports that Ms Sharma worked at Eastbourne District Hospital, and is believed to have received treatment for the novel coronavirus for three days before passing away.

A friend and colleague posted online: ““Really sorry to hear that one of our fellow pharmacists and a friend of mine since university, Pooja, and her father have passed away.

“May their souls rest in peace. Sending my heartiest condolences, prayers and love to their family.

They added: “Please, please, please inform family and friends to take this very seriously and to self-isolate, socially distance themselves as much as possible, for their families if not for themselves.”

Mr Sharma was an immigration officer at Heathrow airport but as he had not worked since January 7, it is not believed that he contracted the disease at work.

It is not known whether father and daughter had had close contact before becoming ill.


Baddeck, Nova Scotia: Pharmacist Graham MacKenzie has criticised holiday-makers and those visiting the area in order to ride out the coronavirus pandemic.

CBC Canada reports that Mr MacKenzie is “exasperated” with the number of tourists in the area, including people who own cottages there.

“When you come into Baddeck, people know if you’re from around here or not, and your licence plate doesn’t lie,” he said.

“I think people were forgetting just exactly how successful this virus is at spreading,” he said.

“Trying to protect this little town, trying to protect this province, I felt it was just time to say something and remind people to stay home.”

He said that the pharmacy he owns, Stone’s Pharmasave, is implementing measures such as only allowing two customers into the store at once. One of its pharmacists is in quarantine, leaving only Mr MacKenzie and a colleague to operate the pharmacy.

However at one point they had to turn away a customer who they knew was living with a person who had to self-isolate after travelling, he said.


US: Bloomberg reports that doctors and other health care workers who speak out about the lack of protective equipment have been told they will lose their jobs.

Olivia Carville, Emma Court and Kristen V Brown spoke to Ming Lin, an emergency room doctor from Washington state, who said he was fired after speaking to a newspaper about a social media post discussing inadequate personal protective equipment.

They write that a Chicago nurse also had her employment terminated after sending an email requesting a more protective mask to wear while working, and that in New York, the NYU Langone Health system also told employees not to speak to the media without being authorised to do so.

“Hospitals are muzzling nurses and other health-care workers in an attempt to preserve their image,” said Ruth Schubert, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Nurses Association. “It is outrageous.”

She said it was vital that health workers be able to tell Americans “what is really going on inside the facilities where they are caring for Covid-19 patients”.


US: Pharmacists overwhelmingly disagree with recent actions by some states to limit the dispensing of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as a possible treatment for COVID-19.

“Our members are clearly worried that this has become a political football,” said B. Douglas Hoey, pharmacist, MBA, CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association, an advocate for 21,000 independent pharmacies.

“This a well-established drug that has been in use for decades for malaria as well as other conditions.

“We know it can be used safely with the proper oversight of a physician and pharmacist. Efforts to restrict stockpiling and hoarding are appropriate and there is limited data indicating that it may be effective against COVID-19, but Americans who are infected and their doctors have a right to try.”

President Trump sparked a run on the drugs several weeks ago when he expressed confidence that they can be used to treat patients infected with COVID-19.

As a result, some state boards of pharmacy and at least two governors responded by placing restrictions on dispensing them. Just days ago, however, the FDA announced emergency use authorization for one of the drugs held in the national stockpile.

“The states have a legitimate concern about hoarding, unethical prescribing, and shortages for existing patients,” said Mr Hoey.

“There may be some relief if hospitals choose to obtain it from the national stockpile or if pharmacies are allowed to compound the medications.

“Pharmacies may still see prescriptions for off-label use but I think that’s a decision that should be made by patients testing positive and their doctor and pharmacist, and not regulators or political officials.”

According to the NCPA survey, 83.8% of independent pharmacists say they should be able to dispense a limited supply of the drugs as long the patient has tested positive and is under a doctor’s care, and 68.4% think the state restrictions have gone too far.

The survey also found that 90% of local pharmacists sat they are having a hard time getting the drugs.

“This is a real concern for patients who are currently taking the drugs for other conditions, and who now cannot find it anywhere. The state restrictions are complicating that problem,” Mr Hoey said.

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