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Meet the unsung heroes behind pharmacy counters

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Come rain or shine, with or without Covid-19, there is an army of unsung heroes who are always present behind pharmacy counters to  comfort and counsel the sick or those stressed out amid the pandemic. From day one, hundreds of  pharmacists have been on the front lines of the UAE’s war on the virus. Today, World Pharmacists Day, get to know three UAE pharmacists who stood behind the counter for decades, bringing relief to people who needed them most.

For 45-year-old Shibi Annie John, a pharmacist’s duty goes over and beyond dispensing medicines. “We are good counsellors and anyone can easily approach us. You can just walk into a pharmacy without any appointment and seek guidance on any medication.”

This is what happens most of the time, she said, but it became more frequent when Covid-19 struck.
“People weren’t sure of whether they should go to a doctor or hospital or not. So many customers would simply walk up to me in the pharmacy with their doubts. Just by talking to us pharmacists, they would feel relaxed and return.” 

The pandemic has changed the lives of pharmacists, said Shibi, who contracted the virus and had to stay away from work for a month.

But the experience did not scare her at all. “I bounced back to work with more rigour and confidence. After going through this disease, I could explain it better to my customers. My advice became more valuable as they saw me survive the deadly infection. I found myself more helpful to patients.” 

‘Through the years, town fondly called me doctor’

When Susan Jiji, 44, flew from India to the UAE in 2002, she was assigned to a pharmacy in a small town of Massafi on the border of Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah. At that time, there were hardly any pharmacies in the area. 

Mostly surrounded by Emiratis and Arabs, Susan soon became a common name in the town, so much so that her customers fondly gave her the title ‘doctor’ in Arabic.

“Although I come from a family of pharmacists, my main reason for joining this profession was community service. It gave me peace to serve people who were suffering and I saw how just a kind word, a genuine smile would comfort them as they left the pharmacy. This made me love my work more and I learnt to develop a bond with my customers. They would even call me at night, sometimes in cases of emergency.”

It’s been five years since Susan moved from Massafi to Fujairah but some of her old customers from the town still visit her to say hello and thank her for her services. They describe her as the “best pharmacist” they had ever met. 

‘Started serving 30 yrs ago, but it feels like yesterday’

Syrian national Khaola Barhoum, 59, has been a pharmacist in the UAE for the last 30 years. To her, these three long decades feels like “just a few years”, as she says her passion for the job keeps her going tirelessly.

“I became a pharmacist for three reasons – care, compassion and love for communication. I have always been a people person and loved counselling them, listening to them and solving their problems. My intention was to benefit as many people and touch as many lives as I could in the best possible way, and this job gives me this kind of job satisfaction.”

The Covid-19 pandemic never gave her fear factor, she said, even though she was part of the vulnerable group considering her age. “With strict rules in place, I continued to serve at the pharmacy in the usual way. We did see a lot of patients walking in during the pandemic and that made me realise the importance of my role as a pharmacist.

“Many were initially confused about the infection. We pharmacists played a vital role of giving them the right information to allay their fears.”

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