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Roosevelt students take pharmacy practice into global health arena with research and field experience in Haiti

Posted: 08/01/2013

A professor and two students at Roosevelt University’s College of Pharmacy are helping the poor in Haiti to not only obtain medications but also to understand directions that need to be followed when taking prescriptions.  (PharmD students Gordana Milosevic, left, and Bill Hunyh, right, are pictured above in Haiti).

The groundbreaking project, which has global health implications, involves developing pictogram labels for medications that can make it easier for the less fortunate all over the world to understand when and how to take medications.

“We started with the idea that there are likely people in Haiti today who can’t understand written directions on their medications and who, as a result, aren’t following the directions correctly,” said Meghana V. Aruru, assistant professor of administrative sciences at Roosevelt’s College of Pharmacy.

A global-health expert, Aruru is working with colleagues at University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University to identify strategies to increase knowledge about medications, particularly in poorer parts of the world, including Haiti.


Interested in the topic, COP student Bill Huynh began to work with Aruru last academic year, creating pictogram labels (at left) for more than 30 medications commonly prescribed for diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions.

Typically, the labels feature familiar drawings/depictions such as: a sun if a medication is to be taken in the morning; two tablets if so prescribed; and a person putting the tablets in the mouth if directed to be taken orally.

As part of the project, Huynh and fellow COP student Gordana Milosevic traveled last spring on a medical mission trip to Gramothe, Haiti, where they worked in a medical clinic serving hundreds of Haitians, including many children. There they teamed with a local organization, Little by Little, which volunteers to provide services to Mountain Top Ministries in Gramothe.


“Every morning there would be lines of people waiting to be seen. There were so any people that some of them would have to be told to come back the next day,” said Milosevic (pictured at right), who took Aruru’s global health course with Hunyh.

During the May 15-22 clinic, Huynh and Milosevic counseled 953 patients on as many as 300,000 different kinds of medications, including potential side effects. “We found that most of the people had no idea what the medications they were taking are used for,” said Huynh.

His pictogram-labeled medications were shown side-by-side with written-labeled medications to a focus group of 343 Haitians during the trip.

Seventy percent of those surveyed indicated a preference for medications labeled with picture directions, according to Aruru, who hopes to involve more pharmacy students with ongoing research on the topic in Haiti in January 2014.

“The ultimate goal of this project is to have every kind of medication available - particularly in poor places where people can’t always read or comprehend - to be labeled with pictograms,” she said.

Findings of the project, including pictograms that Huynh continues to create, will be presented in fall 2014 at the American Public Health Association annual meeting in New Orleans.  You can see

Huynh and Milosevic, members of the college’s inaugural class, will graduate in May 2014. Both say they have a desire to promote greater global understanding about medications.

“We’re hoping this will become an ongoing project that pharmacy students at COP can participate in,” said Milosevic. “It is the kind of project that is directly in line with the University’s social justice mission.”

““I’d like to return to Haiti to work further on the labeling research,” Huynh added.

If the project interests enough students, Aruru would like to start an international pharmacy-practice rotation at the College of Pharmacy.
“We want our students to see what other populations taking medications look like so they can better understand the barriers they face in promoting global understanding about medications, their uses, how  they should be taken and their side effects,” she said.

For more information on the 2014 trip to Haiti trip and/or to be involved in the project, contact Aruru at 847-330-4529 or