Page last updated at 13:56 GMT, Tuesday, 13 December 2005

Charity getting drugs to the needy

By Jane Elliott
BBC News health reporter

Drugs
IHP say they will act as brokers

Nearly everyone has a packet of paracetamol or Lemsip in their cupboards to help ward off headaches, sore throats and the flu.

But in developing countries simple drugs like these can be very hard to come by.

Now a charity is sending millions of surplus UK stocks to countries in need.

International Health Partners (IHP), which was founded last November, had its first real test following the tsunami.

Medicines

Liaising with other charities, governments and drug manufacturers, it was able to act as the go-between, getting the drugs to the affected areas.

So far, IHP has sent £3.5m of medicines and medical supplies to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

We will not receive anything unless we know somebody needs it and there is a demand for it
Anthony Dunnett

It has also been heavily involved in getting aid to Pakistan in the wake of the recent earthquake.

It is in the process of airlifting £500,000 worth of the medicine Ribavirin, which has been requested by the World Health Organisation and the Pakistan Ministry of Health, to help contain an outbreak of haemorrhagic fever.

In its first year of operation, over 40 pharmaceutical and medical supplies companies have donated products, with a wholesale value of £7 million to 16 different countries.

Cambodia and the Philippines received two shipments of flu vaccine.

Vitamins for mothers and children have been sent to Afghanistan, paracetamol to hospitals and clinics in Angola and Zaire and Lemsip to Romania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Some organisations have expressed scepticism of the plans, claiming they are merely a way of 'dumping drugs' in developing countries.

But Anthony Dunnett, president of the IHP, denied this and said the charity was matching a growing desire from pharmaceutical companies to give aid to meet the demands of poorer nations.

He stressed his charity would not be repeating the mistakes of the past and giving inappropriate medicines to countries who did not need, or ask for them.

Need

"IHP was established specifically to avoid the donation abuses of the past; each product sent was to fulfil a specific request for the particular medicine from the WHO and emergency teams on the ground.

"The donations to Pakistan had long dating and came from current stocks of over 29 pharmaceutical companies in the UK. IHP and the WHO are working to jointly promote a responsible attitude towards corporate social responsibility.

"Within the donated medicines were 27 medical kits containing 37 medicines, each kit is sufficient to treat 1,000 people. These were specifically requested by the WHO, four major UK medical charities and over 50 UK doctors and surgeons who travelled to serve in the affected areas."

Antiseptic hand wash
Antiseptic hand wash in the Galle region of Sri Lanka

Mr Dunnett said pharmaceutical firms produced many more drugs than they needed and that this was a way of ensuring that the drugs were put to good use, rather than being destroyed.

He said it also allowed firms and their employees feel that they were doing something direct to help others.

"A lot of employees were struck by the tsunami and wanted to do something to help.

"There is a tremendous level of support from individuals and leaders from across the UK medical community and pharmaceutical/medical supplies industries to play a direct part in helping those who have faced devastation from the tsunami.

"While medicines play their part, the provision of management expertise and technical medical skills are essential if communities are going to rebuild their lives effectively."

"On January 1 we started to get going and the telephone calls started to come in.

Packs

He said the charity is also making-up packs of donated drugs to give to doctors and charities with workers in the field.

Drugs
Drugs ready to be shipped out
Dr Khalif Bile Mohamud, county representative for the WHO in Pakistan said he had found IHP to have responded quickly to their recent disaster.

"IHP worked closely to the defined list of needs and sent only those medicines that were requested.

"This type of close partnership working and responsible donations ensures that the emergency teams on the ground receive what they need when they need it and directly helps accelerate the process of recovery."

Pharmacist Guillaume Schmidt from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), voiced doubts about similar schemes, which he said had simply been a way to dump unwanted drugs.

"It is a well known practice from pharmaceutical laboratories in order to disseminate overstocks, to eliminate nearly expired drugs and to gain position in a market against potential competitors.

"In addition to these strategies/advantages, those laboratories get tax exemptions."

He said there were also concerns about screening the quality of donations and ensuring the dosages or formulations conformed with the country they were being sent to.

And he said that sometimes packaging and leaflets accompanying the drugs were not always in languages understood by the local health workers.

"The MSF policy is to not accept these kind of donations. In the case we would say yes, a complete quality assessment of the products would be done before taking a decision."

However, Dr Khalif Bile Mohamud, a representative for the WHO in Pakistan, said he had found IHP to have responded quickly to their disaster.

"IHP worked closely to the defined list of needs and sent only those medicines that were requested.

"This type of close partnership working and responsible donation ensures that the emergency teams on the ground receive what they need when they need it and directly helps accelerate the process of recovery."



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