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COVID-19: Pharmacy teams and Ramadan considerations

How can you prepare for Ramadan in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis?

Unplanned learning

Ramadan is the sacred month of the Islamic calendar when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset for 29-30 days (depending on the sighting of the moon). During the daily fasts, Muslims abstain from food and drink. This special month is not just about fasting – Muslims believe that good deeds carried out in this month are full of blessings so engage in extra prayers and worship, charitable acts and reading the Quran, the holy book of Islam.

This will be a Ramadan like no other for most Muslims in the UK. The month is usually a time when Muslims come together to break their fast (known as ‘iftar’) and share dinners with family and friends. Following iftar each night, special prayers called ‘taraweeh’ prayers are held in congregation at the mosques where large numbers of Muslims attend to pray together. The end of Ramadan brings one of the biggest festivals in the Muslim calendar - Eid-ul-Fitr.

With current restrictions a reality for the coming weeks, Muslims are facing a month where lockdown just got even tougher. Losing this sense of community during this month will hold many challenges. Those who are still working in the pharmacy may be used to fasting from previous years, but COVID-19 presents some new obstacles this year. For those who will be fasting, taking some time to plan how to overcome these challenges will be important to still create a successful and meaningful Ramadan.

What is helpful to consider when fasting while working in the pharmacy?

1. Tell others about your intention to fast

It is always helpful to discuss plans to fast for Ramadan with employers and colleagues. Although fasting Muslims can usually carry out their pharmacy duties as normal, the fasting days are long this year so fatigue may be expected towards the end of the day. Pharmacy colleagues may have no experience of Ramadan and chatting about what it means and how it affects those fasting can build a supportive team to help throughout the month.

Early discussion with employers offers a chance to consider workplace adjustments (such as those who wish to adjust break times or annual leave requests).

2. Plan out tasks for long shifts

Tasks for long shifts can be planned out in a balanced way throughout the day. If possible, fresh air breaks, which can be helpful, can be scheduled.

Priority should be given to drinking enough fluids during non-fasting periods and selecting foods to eat for suhoor (breakfast) and iftar that will sustain those fasting throughout the day. Fluid-rich foods such as fruit, vegetables, yogurt, soups and stews will also replace fluids lost during the day and help start the next day of fasting well hydrated.

Eating well and making sensible choices for meals will ensure energy levels and concentration are maintained for long shifts in the pharmacy. For suhoor, starchy, high energy foods, particularly those of the wholegrain variety such as oats, brown rice, wholegrain cereals and bread should be selected. Upon breaking fast, low-fat, fluid rich foods that contain natural sugars for energy are preferred.

Meals should be planned for each week in advance of going shopping. Restrictions on leaving the house will still apply during Ramadan so Muslims should be mindful to visit grocery stores infrequently. Planning in advance will ensure all items can be purchased to provide sustaining meals during the working week while still abiding by public health advice for COVID-19.

3. Be mindful of personal protection equipment (PPE) and dehydration

PPE may increase the likelihood of dehydration for those wearing it. It restricts drinking during the time that is worn (which is not a consideration for those fasting) and also can cause the wearer to sweat more while they have it on. This can be detrimental for those fasting, who will have low fluid reserves during the fasting hours. Ensure the workplace is well ventilated if PPE has to be worn so that high temperatures don’t cause overheating. Take breaks from PPE to ensure dehydration does not occur.

Who is exempt from fasting?

There are a number of exemptions for Muslims where they are not required to fast. These include those with ill health and long-term health conditions (eg diabetes), the elderly, pregnant women or women during their menstrual cycle.

The consideration of COVID-19 this year will also affect some of those attempting to fast. As with any other illness, if a Muslim is too unwell to fast while infected with COVID-19 they are exempt. Those with mild symptoms may wish to continue fasting, although they should do so while self-isolating.

Is exercise during fasting recommended?

Muslims who train regularly will have to customise their workout plans during Ramadan. Training just before iftar or two hours afterwards may be an option. For most Muslims though, light exercise such as a walk or gentle cycle may be all that can be achieved. COVID-19 restrictions only allow one form of exercise outside the home each day. Light exercise under this restriction may help to aid digestion and maintain positive mental health throughout Ramadan.

How can Muslims mind their mental health during lockdown this Ramadan?

Although this Ramadan will involve less social gatherings than other years, Muslims should remember the essence of Ramadan can still be maintained. The month can be used for spiritual self-reflection with less distractions and social commitments than usual. Connecting with other Muslims for lectures and iftars can be achieved using numerous online platforms. Although not the same as congregating in person, these tools can provide a vital lifeline for those who are facing lockdown on their own.

Anxiety is heightened at the moment among many people in the UK from the uncertainty of COVID-19 and the restrictions that have been put in place. Some Muslims may find it difficult to achieve duties of worship for Ramadan as well as managing this anxiety. Accepting this stressful situation and doing what is within one’s capabilities will help to maintain a positive mental outlook during this holy month.  

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