Window of hope

It is small, but it fills a big gap: in the pharmacy founded by Dr. Carina Vetye in the Villa Zagala slum in Buenos Aires, the poorest among the city’s residents receive urgently needed medication, medical advice and some hope for the future.

Friends of Carina
A window of hope: Dr. Carina Vetye gives a patient their medication at the dispensary window of her pharmacy in Villa Zagala. (Photo / © AoG)

It is a window in the walls of a narrow alley in Villa Zagala, a slum in the heart of Buenos Aires. For the people who live there, it is where they access essential medication. The window serves as a dispensing point for the pharmacy, which the German-Argentinean Carina Vetye founded as a member of “Pharmacists Without Borders” in 2008.

The pharmacy is just twelve square meters, the corridors and shelves are almost bursting, every storage space is filled to the last centimeter. More than a hundred medications are kept in the pharmacy, and Carina and her team – five volunteer pharmacists and two part-time employees – keep detailed records of the inventory. Which medications are still in stock in sufficient quantities, how many were handed out today through the dispensary window to people who urgently need them? What needs to be reordered most urgently with the money available?

Carina’s slum pharmacy is affiliated with the municipal “Health Center Number 16”. Because there is no general medical care system in Argentina, this is the only medical access point for the district that is home to around 30,000 people. Medication is hard to come by: the health center can only provide around 30 percent of the medication needed to treat chronic diseases such as diabetes with its own resources.

Medication must be available – and taken correctly

With her pharmacy, Carina works every day to close this gap. The medication is free of charge for patients as long as they follow the doctor’s instructions. To ensure this is the case, Carina and her team attach great importance to teaching people in the slum how to take their medication, how to prevent disease and how to generally lead a healthier life.

Carina describes herself as a “two-legged package leaflet”: “As a pharmacist without borders, ensuring that people have the medication they need and that it is explained to them correctly is something that is very close to my heart. It’s a simple concept: the right medication must be available, it must be taken correctly, and the therapy must be monitored.”

From her pharmacy, Carina also often travels around Villa Zagala, visiting sick people at home, in the poorest of housing. Initially, they often reacted in disbelief when she explained to them that they could get the medication they needed from the window of the pharmacy in the narrow alley. Over the past ten years, the pharmacy has become an important place for the people of Villa Zagala – a window they trust and a window of hope.