Global Pharmacy Scholars make an impact in Ethiopia

Faculty and students advance pediatric cancer care abroad

Story by Mariava Philips | Published July 18, 2023

A large group of people smile at the camera on the steps of a building

Earlier this year, a team of faculty and students from  the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with three goals in mind—to launch Ethiopia’s first pediatric cancer registry, develop a therapeutic drug monitoring program, and establish chemotherapy safe handling policies.

It was part of the School’s Global Pharmacy Scholars (GPS) program, which includes Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience sites in Australia, Honduras, Ethiopia, India, Japan, Malawi, Moldova, the United Kingdom, and Zambia.

“The GPS program allows our students to broaden their global perspectives, as they get to observe how pharmacy is practiced in another country, learn about different approaches to health care and medicine use, and to bring those experiences back to their practice of pharmacy in North Carolina,” said Stephen Eckel, PharmD ‘97, Associate Dean for Global Engagement and Associate Professor in the Division of Practice Advancement and Clinical Education (PACE).

Benyam Muluneh, PharmD ‘10, Assistant Professor in the Division of Pharmacotherapy and Experimental Therapeutics (DPET), is the co-director of the UNC-Ethiopia Alliance and serves as the preceptor for GPS in Ethiopia. Muluneh, who spearheaded the School’s relationship with Addis Ababa University, is from Ethiopia and still has family there today, so the impact of these projects hits close to home.

“The trips are really an opportunity for students and residents to be involved and move important projects along. We focus on cancer care delivery with a special interest in pediatric cancer,” said Muluneh. The GPS Ethiopia team started meeting in August 2022 to prepare for the March 2023 trip. The purpose of each meeting was to prepare for the projects in advance to ensure that the trip was all execution.

To launch the pediatric cancer registry, the group partnered with the five main hospitals in Ethiopia along with the government’s Ministry of Health. During their visit they hosted workshops with all stakeholders and planned for the soft launch in May, which was successful, and are now working toward the hard launch in September.

“The number one thing for us was establishing the registry. We had a celebration lunch after the workshop and the ministry thanked Carolina for our work because this is the start of something big for their country,” Muluneh said. This will help Ethiopia collect the data they need among pediatric cancer patients to build a strategy for how to approach this growing problem.

The team had the opportunity to visit a house where cancer patients and families stay while they receive treatment from the hospital. They played with the kids, danced and enjoyed a meal together. Although the trip was busy with project deliverables, exposing the group to the culture was a top priority.

“Our travels to Ethiopia opened my eyes and blessed me in so many ways, but the thing I am most grateful for are the relationships and friendships I made with the providers in Ethiopia and with my travel team that I know will be lifelong relationships. This trip brought such immense joy to my life and was a true reminder of why I chose to specialize within the pediatric oncology population,” said Mandee Lines, PharmD, postgraduate year two pediatric oncology pharmacy resident at UNC Medical Center.

The GPS trips to Ethiopia will continue annually with the hope to grow and potentially offer trips multiple times a year.

“This trip to Addis Ababa with our amazing group sparked a new passion in my life: coordinating with providers across the world to optimize health care in their respective communities,”said Julian Garcia, PharmD ’23. “Building relationships with providers and their patients brought me joy and humility, and I look forward to returning and continuing to work to improve patient lives around the globe.”