Pharmacy alumni and grad student provides patient care in rural Uganda

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Heidi and the pharmacy team sorting medications on a table

Heidi and the volunteer team sorting and conducting inventory on the clinic's medications.

Heidi Fernandes is a MSc student at the School of Pharmacy with a passion for global health. She heard about the Canada-Africa Community Health Alliance (CACHA) through a family physician on her thesis advisory committee – the Alliance works with local partners to provide disease prevention, treatment, support, and education for vulnerable people in four African countries.

Heidi’s strong passion for global health had already taken her to Guatemala and Peru on volunteer missions. Excited for more travel health opportunities, she volunteered for a CACHA mission to Uganda in March. Heidi, who is a graduate of UW’s pharmacy program and a practicing pharmacist, joined a team of physicians, nurses, and health care students to travel to Kammengo, a rural village about an hour outside of Kampala, Uganda’s capital.

"The Canadian-African Community Health Alliance truly is an alliance," Heidi says. "The organization partners Canadians with lots of medical professionals from other parts of Africa, such as Tanzania and Kenya, and involves local volunteers who grew up in the village of Kammengo. We worked hard to respect the health care system in Uganda and the need for continuity of care. We wouldn't start patients on medications they wouldn't be able to access after we left, for example, ensuring that the care we provide is sustainable in the long run." 

A member of CACHA checking stock on the shelves of the clinic

A member of the CACHA team inspecting inventory on the shelves at the clinic.

Heidi and her colleagues, a blend of various health professionals, set up a clinic and treated about 400-500 patients a day over the course of two and a half weeks. As a pharmacist, Heidi worked with nurses and physicians to counsel patients on medication and also mentored other pharmacy students on the trip. Dealing with limited resources was a challenge that required creativity and problem-solving to address.

Heidi holding a water bottle

Heidi holding a puffer with an improvised aerochamber created from a water bottle for a patient with asthma

“There were challenges,” Heidi reflects, “treating conditions that I don’t typically see and ensuring that the medication recommendations we provide would be sustainable once we left. But it was a fantastic experience to get to know and impact so many people. Trips like these teach you to be resourceful and to be a strong team player.”

Uganda sunset over a lush green forestHeidi's volunteerism and passion for global health were recognized by the University of Waterloo with a prestigious President's Accolade. Bestowed by the Office of the President, these accolades recognize students, faculty, staff, and alumni who consistently go above and beyond, improving their community both at home and abroad.

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