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Rural Health Initiative brings more pharmacists to smaller towns

Global Goals & Global Society
Rural Health Initiative brings more pharmacists to smaller towns

Many small towns are coping with the problem of "pharmacy deserts."

A shortage of pharmacists and pharmacies is being caused by a combination of extensive retirements and high operating costs. Those in the profession are frequently the first people citizens encounter for medical care in rural towns around Washington state.

The "Rural Health Initiative," a new program at Washington State University, aims to increase access by bringing more pharmacists to smaller towns.

Erik Nelson owns and operates four pharmacies on the Washington-Idaho border. The local pharmacy is a key service in a town of around 10,000 people northwest of Spokane.

"We are the most accessible health care provider in the health care system," Nelson explained. "You can stroll into any pharmacy and chat to a pharmacist within minutes."

In the winter, the only main road through Nine Mile Falls can close at any time, directing all medical care to the pharmacy. "We're basically the forefront for people's health care without having to drive a half-hour or more," Nelson explained.

Yet operating those pharmacies open is proving increasingly challenging. When someone uses their insurance to purchase a prescription, a pharmacy benefit manager is in charge of reimbursing the pharmacy for its costs.

Many pharmacies lose money on this side of the company and make up the difference with sales of other items. Yet, supplemental services are not as readily available in rural areas as they are in urban areas.

"I'd guess 30% to 40% of the medications we fill are paid at or below our cost," Nelson added. "It's not profitable. And the profit doesn't have to be tremendous, but it has to be enough to pay the pharmacist."

The objective of Washington State University's new "Rural Health Initiative" is to identify areas where pharmacies are lacking and teach a new generation of rural pharmacists.

The initiative, which was founded on an anonymous $2.2 million dollar contribution last year, is currently educating its inaugural cohort at WSU's Pullman and Yakima campuses, where students spend time around Washington learning about pharmacy deserts and identifying the health needs of rural populations.

Many improvements were made to the world's healthcare system

The achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 3 faces significant challenges, though. According to current trends, a third of the world's population won't have access to basic healthcare by 2030.

The Covid-19 Pandemic exacerbates already-existing issues and undoes advancements made in development, including the suspension of immunization campaigns, inadequate child and maternal health care, and unplanned pregnancies in women and girls. These issues are caused by starting points, bottlenecks in supply chains, and overburdened healthcare systems. Hence, Covid-19 currently presents the greatest challenge to achieving the health-related SDGs.

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