National | Regional voices: Chubu

Mie and Gifu take delivery of Mobile Pharmacy vehicles to improve medical provision in the wake of natural disasters

Chunichi Shimbun

Demonstrations were held last week allowing residents in the city of Tsu, Mie Prefecture, to explore new mobile pharmacy vans delivered to the prefecture at the end of 2017.

Gifu prefecture also received a delivery of the vans, which are equipped with pharmaceutical supplies and equipment, making the service available for the first time in the Chubu region.

The orders were made based on lessons learned through the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, when pharmacies and hospitals sustained significant damage.

The mobile pharmacy is a modified recreational vehicle, or RV, loaded with medicine and pharmacy tools, which allows pharmacists to head to disaster-stricken areas and attend to the injured. The vehicles are expected to play an important role in responding to emergencies going forward.

The vans were developed after the pharmacists association in Miyagi Prefecture, which experienced heavy damage in the March 2011 earthquake, approached Vantech Inc., an RV manufacturer based in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, in 2012.

The company modified a small truck into an RV. The sleeping space was left as is, but medicine shelves, pharmaceutical packaging machines, and devices to prepare medicine in a bacteria-free environment were installed in the galley area.

Vantech has already delivered mobile pharmacy vans to all seven pharmaceutical associations in Japan, and the product demonstrated its capabilities following the earthquakes in Kumamoto Prefecture two years ago. After the quake, Tatsuya Kobayashi, 42, a pharmacist registered with Mie Pharmacists Association, was deployed to help the village of Minamiaso in the Aso district using a mobile pharmacy van from Wakayama Prefecture. He stationed the van next to a gym that served as an evacuation center, and provided medicine to victims of the earthquakes based on prescriptions given by the medical team. In addition to prescribing medicine to those suffering from high blood pressure or diabetes, who routinely take medication, the facility also served an important role in treating patients with norovirus or influenza quickly to prevent them from spreading their ailments at the shelter. “(The mobile pharmacy) had the basic equipment needed to operate as a pharmacy,” reflected Kobayashi.

Mie Prefecture expects heavy damage if a Nankai Trough megaquake occurs, so the prefecture’s pharmacists association purchased the van last December. It cost approximately ¥14 million, with the prefecture providing a 50 percent subsidy. When a natural disaster strikes, cooperating pharmacies in the prefecture will load the vehicle with the necessary medicines and a team of three pharmacists will head to the affected area.

The prefecture held a training session last month for approximately 20 pharmacists who will be deployed in the event of an emergency. The training provided necessary information on topics such as using the batteries for emergency power supply and servicing the van properly.

In the Chubu region, Gifu Pharmaceutical University also purchased one unit last December, becoming the first university in the nation to operate a mobile pharmacy.

“Pharmacists need to bring a large amount of medicine to areas that suffer catastrophic damage,” said professor Tetsuji Yae from Suzuka University of Medical Science.

The mobile pharmacy makes it possible to prescribe powder medications and injections, which were previously difficult to provide in disaster-affected areas because they require special equipment.

“A mobile pharmacy is like an emergency ambulance for pharmacists and we will see more organizations purchasing them in the future, so we need to teach students to operate from them as pharmacists as well,” he added.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. This used to be called Chubu Connection. The original article was published Jan. 31.

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