Just to reiterate, this process took a lot of time. All 28 of our brigades and the doctor we brought along spend hours that Saturday counting and sorting. I don’t know the breakdown of all the medications that we had to sort but the first medication I was tasked with was Ibuprofen. Four of my fellow Brigaders were recruited to help count the Ibuprofen with me. Even with five of us working together, it took us a little over an hour to count, bag, and label all the Ibuprofen. And Ibuprofen was only a fraction of the medication that we brought along. This process really gives me an appreciation for the hours that we spent running pharmacy drives in front of Rite-aid. Above that, we really have to thank everyone who supported our cause and donated medication for us.
In case you’re not a pharmacist and not familiar with the tools that they use count medication, check out the pictures below and you'll see us using these blue trays. They’re called pill counting trays and they’re very simple to use. Pour the pills from the bottle onto the flat area of the counter. Using a tongue depressor to count and slide the pills into the cylindrical area on the left side of the counter. When the desired number is reached, close the cylinder lid, pour the excess on the flat area back into the bottle, and slide the counted pills into the zip lock bag. Sounds easy, right? Well yeah, it was. But why does it have to take 29 people many hours to complete? What if we automated parts of the pill counting process to make it faster and more efficient? This could have a huge impact on future brigade trips. Instead of spending the entire first day counting medication, we could spend the first evening counting and sorting all the medication. Then we’d have the entire first day in country working a clinic. We’d be able to see hundreds more patients on the trip. That’s hundreds more patients that would be able to see a doctor, dentist, gynecologist, and receive medication.
So first things first. Does this technology exist? Simple answer is yes, it does exist. Doing a quick google search of ‘automatic pill counter’ will yield machines from all different brands and manufacturers. Click these links and you’ll come to a quick realization that it’ll be difficult to deploy these in low resource areas of the world. The cheaper models cost around $3000 and probably require a trained professional to maintain. Something like this would be difficult to utilize on our brigade trip.
I posed the problem to the pill counting team I was working with and we came up with several ideas. The first idea was to use a scale to measure the weight of the zip lock bags to determine the number of pills inside. A second idea was to use something that we all carry around in our pockets, our smartphones. Images captured by the camera can be used segment the pills and give the user the number of pills on the counter. Both ideas are simple and cost effective. These would be an interesting projects to pursue and if it were to be implemented, it would help future brigades impact more people.
- Allen Kim, Brigader