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Disaster relief: donations of medicines
do more harm than good

Many of the drugs donated following the disasters in Pakistan and Indonesia were unusable and had to be incinerated. It is better to help countries to buy the drugs they need.

Tsunami in South-East Asia in 2004, earthquake in Pakistan in 2005 – both disasters caught the public imagination and led to a flood of aid, including donations of medicines. Once again these proved to be totally unsuitable and hundreds of tonnes of unusable medicines had to be incinerated.

As has been pointed out repeatedly for years, medicines donated in emergency situations do not meet the needs of the recipient populations; the medicines are not always administered by qualified personnel, and they can find their way onto the black market and jeopardise ongoing efforts to obtain drugs from local sources.

Disaster situations sometimes require supplies of specific drugs. In most cases, these supplies can and must be sourced locally, and it is funding that is required, not drugs. In Indonesia, for example, the Health Minister did not ask for drugs, as he deemed that the country had a sufficient supply.

Unused medicines from rich countries are not a helpful solution, even if they seem like a good idea. It is better for them to be incinerated at home rather than in Indonesia or Pakistan.

©Prescrire December 2006

Source: "Dons de médicaments en situation de catastrophe : trop d'effets pervers" Rev Prescrire 2006 ; 26 (278) : 855-856.

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