South Australian pharmacists, husband and wife Irfan and Sobia Hashmi, have first-hand experience delivering vital services to their community.
Concerned that many in their community – including some of the most vulnerable – were unsure how to deal with some ailments, Irfan and Sobia launched a program of free flu shots for vulnerable patients.
As Irfan says, ‘We came to know there are many different communities and they are not getting much funding from the Government because they may be more isolated; this makes them vulnerable’.
Their community in Adelaide included people from many backgrounds, including Brazilians, Colombians, Armenians and refugees from Syria.
Take-up of the flu shots was rapid and this became a mission for Irfan and Sobia. The strong response from their community led to extension of the initiative through pharmacies in regional areas of South Australia.
It’s one of the many ways these pharmacists are contributing at a time of general uncertainty due to COVID-19.
Looking after patients who couldn’t come into their pharmacy has also become a priority during COVID-19 lockdowns. The Hashmi team alone has distributed 265 free hampers of sanitiser and other protective items for patients in nursing homes or those receiving home delivery services.
Irfan says explaining the role of pharmacists is also key to building community confidence.
‘We explain I am a trained pharmacist and I can help with things such as flu vaccinations or minor ailments. There are a lot of things we can do.’
Sobia says COVID-19 has also impacted the way they communicate, including with doctors and other professionals across the medical sector.
‘Lockdowns… put a lot of pressure on our staff, but we just adapted and got on with it so our patients would be looked after. Our staff have been amazing, often working extra hours to help patients.’
Keeping staff educated about developments on COVID-19 has also been critical both during and post-lockdowns; strong internal communication means better outcomes for the pharmacy’s clientele.
It’s just part of their passion, delivering positive health outcomes to regional Australians.
They have three vital messages:
Firstly, they say to anyone newly graduated: ‘Work in a regional area; this will give you first-class experience in a pharmacy practice, likely better and rounder experience than might be available in a suburb of a capital city’.
Secondly, they say to pharmacists arriving from overseas: ‘Go to regional Australia for at least two or three years; experience the personal development from internship to becoming an entrepreneur serving your community’.
And thirdly: ‘Experience the community spirit! The respect and appreciation for the community pharmacist in a regional centre is as strong as it gets’.
So how is it that this wonderful partnership, Irfan and Sobia, came to be delivering such important health outcomes to the people of Coober Pedy? What was their path in the journey from Pakistan to Coober Pedy?
‘When we were new in Australia, as a student Sobia passed her pharmacy exam for overseas graduates. She received a job offer in Darwin. We were in Adelaide, so decided to drive to Darwin. We stopped at Coober Pedy, our first interaction with regional South Australia.
‘We went to Darwin for a year, then Sobia was looking for an internship so we started looking around. We found Port Pirie had an employment chance for Irfan so drove back from Darwin and stopped again at Coober Pedy.’
In 2007, through discussions with the Pharmacy Board, they identified an opportunity – and took it with gusto.
The real winners are the people of Coober Pedy and surrounds.
It’s a story the Hashmis would love to see repeated far and wide across regional Australia.