Board member Colleen Hogg has offered pharmaceutical care to villagers in Sosúa, Dominican Republic, on two humanitarian trips, in 2018 and 2019. As part of an interdisciplinary care team, she served up to 250 patients a day at numerous villages known as bateyes.
By Angela Poon
Life can be cruelly unjust for Dominican Republic residents with Haitian roots. These descendants of Haitian migrants have provided cheap labour in the country’s sugar cane fields and tourist resorts for generations, but are denied legal documentation by local officials. With little access to formal education, community services, or health care, they live in impoverished villages known as bateyes and struggle to secure life’s basic needs.
“These communities face overwhelming discrimination,” says B.C. pharmacist Colleen Hogg, who has served on two humanitarian trips to the Caribbean country. “With few nutritious foods and no clean water available, even minor ailments can be difficult to overcome.”
For the past two years, Hogg has provided pharmaceutical care in various bateyes surrounding Sosúa, Dominican Republic, as a member of a medical mission team, organized by the Rotary Clubs of Festival City (Stratford) and Wasaga Beach, in Southwestern Ontario. Hogg is the owner of Quadra Island’s Cove Pharmacy and Gold River Telepharmacy and a Board member with the BC Pharmacy Association.
Colleen Hogg and the volunteer team offered free medical care to hundreds of villagers around Sosúa, Dominican Republic.
She became connected to the Ontarian team through fellow pharmacists met at past Canadian Pharmacists Association conferences. Although she had hoped to one day serve overseas—and had recently completed an online course in humanitarian health care—she was surprised to receive her opportunity earlier than expected in October 2018.
“I got a call on a Sunday, asking me if I wanted to fill in for the pharmacist who could no longer join the medical mission team to the Dominican Republic. The trip was taking place just a few weeks later and I had until Tuesday to decide,” Hogg recalls. “I was really nervous because I didn’t know what to expect.”
In November 2018, she joined her team of about 25 volunteers, including nurses, doctors, and a pharmacy technician. The group transported 70 50-lb. hockey bags of medical supplies and other items, such as glasses, sunglasses and hats, to the coastal town of Sosúa, Dominican Republic.
There, the team moved to different bateyes, serving between 200 to 250 patients a day. Patients ranged in age from three months to 97 years old. Working out of churches, carports, and even homes, Hogg set up makeshift pharmacies of basic medications and supplies, including topical antibiotics, antifungal creams, vitamins, and pain relievers. While many of these items were purchased directly from local pharmacies, local villagers have no way of accessing the medications due to both a lack of money and transportation, says Hogg.
“Through translators, we offered health teaching and treatment and follow-up requirements,” says Hogg. “So many ailments we were treating were quite basic, which mostly stemmed from lack of food and clean water. These included allergies, dry skin, infections, headaches, backaches, fevers. We addressed the most common chronic conditions in the area, high blood pressure and diabetes. And we provided many young women with reusable feminine hygiene kits and education on their use.”
In 2019, Colleen Hogg (right) was joined by her sister-in-law, Stacey Hogg, a registered pharmacy technician based in Calgary. Together, the pair set up makeshift pharmacies of basic medications and supplies.
Although she was overwhelmed at first with the heat, humidity, and high needs of the locals, Hogg quickly settled into a routine and enjoyed the opportunity to make an impact with local villagers over the team’s two-week service trip.
A year later, she jumped at the chance to return and encouraged her sister-in-law, Stacey Hogg, a registered pharmacy technician from Calgary, to join her on the medical mission. And thanks to a much longer lead time, Hogg collected further donations from her community members in Campbell River and pharmacy customers, who offered baby supplies, sports equipment, and clothing and hygiene supplies.
Hogg was greatly encouraged by improvements to the bateyes around Sosúa on her second visit, including a new community centre built by a local humanitarian organization working in the area. The group was also working to identify diabetics and provide opportunities for critical supplies to be more widely available.
The volunteer team visited several local villages—known as bateyes—home to the descendants of Haitian migrants living in the Dominican Republic.
“For me the second year was really beneficial because I saw the progress. Some people can feel discouraged because there are so many chronic, underlying issues at play, but I feel like helping a person even in that moment gives them hope and can make a difference in the future. A lot of it is realizing how small things can make a huge difference in someone’s life. Things that we take for granted are a huge deal for them.”
She recalls a particularly heartwarming story with her crew member, Tom, who was providing walking canes to people who were blind or partially sighted. Blindness due to pterygium, a tissue that grows over the cornea of the eye from overexposure to sunlight, dust, and wind, is a significant issue for the community. Tom fit an older man with a cane and taught him how to use it, with a tapping method to move around.
“The look of pure joy on the gentleman’s face filled the room, as he had been depending on others to help him around,” she says.
Hogg looks forward to hopefully joining the group on its next humanitarian trip currently scheduled this fall.