Primum non nocere. First, do no harm. That dictate from the Hippocratic Oath bounces around the brain of Dr. Francis Nuthalapaty day and night. Doesn’t matter if he’s making rounds or teaching the next generation of doctors.
First, do no harm. It’s a pretty attainable goal when following organized procedures, with a highly educated staff wearing fresh scrubs and bright purple gloves. But Nuthalapaty has witnessed how easily harm can visit the far-reaches of the world. “These are eld clinics out in the boonies. You’re working out of a tent, or in the open air,” he reveals. “You don’t get hundreds—you get thousands of people who come from a community, some walking for miles to see you. So, how do you manage all of those people?” First, do no harm.
The maternal-fetal medicine specialist spends most of his days in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Greenville Health System. But his mind is never far from his next medical mission trip. Ecuador, South Africa, India. Been there, treated the people. Christian-based medical mission trips have been his passion since he traveled on his rst to Zambia in 1997 as a med student. “This experience changed my entire perspective on a medical career. I learned that serving people through medicine requires not only your mind, but also your heart,” he shares. “That rst experience instilled a commitment within me to not only serve in medical missions, but to also look for ways to encourage health professionals and students to engage in missions.”
His commitment became a non-pro t after a trip to Peru in 2010 with local pharmacist Roger Blackwell. The two realized there were clear opportunities to improve patient safety abroad in short-term medical missions. On most religious-fronted trips of this nature, well-meaning volunteers buy pharmaceuticals in bulk, hand-count the pills, and dispense them in non-labeled Ziploc bags. “So, you’re like cringing, because you can’t imagine doing that yourself, right?” explains Nuthalapaty. “And you have too much and leave it behind. Does anyone even know what it is? If they distribute it to someone else, is that an issue? We kind of turn a blind eye to patient safety.”
Back at home, over a Chick- l-A breakfast, the two whitecoats conceived Omer Medical Logistics to deliver the Golden Rule around the world. “We shouldn’t take shortcuts just because we are going to a different country and serve a population that is disadvantaged,” pleads the doctor. “We should do everything as well as if we’d expected it to be done to us, right? As if it’s unto Christ.”
Five years, $250,000 in charitable funding, and one eld test in the Amazon jungle later, volunteers repackaged the rst batch of pills at Omer’s 1,350-square-foot facility on Garlington Road. A line of machines in a sanitary, climate-controlled suite produces 30 single-patient bags of tablets a minute. Each bag is labeled in one of 22 languages, from Arabic to Vietnamese. Pictograms are also printed for those who are illiterate. Last year, Omer repackaged 1.4 million tablets in eleven languages, for use in 22 countries, including Lebanon and Syria. “What we’re trying to do is change the culture of medical missions,” says Nuthalapaty. “And the bigger picture is stewardship. If we can get all the pieces together, suddenly we are part of a community helping all of these people do their work better.”
Dozens of churches, and global outreach groups like e3 Partners, now purchase repackaged children’s, adult, and pre-natal vitamins from Omer Medical Logistics for their trips. By working with distributors, Omer provides properly labeled, vacuum-packed pills at lesser cost than trip participants can buy in bulk at Costco. Vitamins, which don’t need repackaging approval, served as the logical starter-pill for Omer. “Nutritional de ciencies are the most common medical issue you nd worldwide,” explains Nuthalapaty. “We don’t have to treat a lot of things, if we can treat something basic.” Omer expects to gain state approval to repackage over- the-counter meds this month, and F.D.A. approval for prescription drugs one year from now.
Repackaged pills are just the beginning. They will be the component that sustains Omer, as it grows and acquires battery-operated computers to loan teams to track data in the eld. This will help the next team identify exactly what to bring to that region. Board members also hope to fund modular medical toolkits
for doctors and dentists, who can’t carry their expensive office equipment on the road. “If we don’t have something to ll our hearts, then we can quickly become empty,” confesses Nuthalapaty. “Next year, our goal is to repackage 3 million pills that will serve 100,000 people.” Dr. Nuthalapaty is sure to be handing out some of those packages himself, praying for his patients with each prescription. Primum non nocere? No problem.