Medical Supplies Donated to Disaster Areas Often Unsuitable

Many tons of drugs and medical equipment pouring into Indonesia in the wake of recent major disasters turned out to be damaged, out of date, or otherwise unusable, according to the aid agency Pharmaciens Sans Frontières (Pharmacists Without Borders). Donated medicines have created more headaches than benefits for the victims.

For example, some 600 tons of expired, damaged, or inappropriate medicine went to Aceh after the December 2004 tsunami. In early July, 150 tons of these drugs were burned. Some 200 tons of unusable drugs were delivered to nearby Nias Island after an earthquake in March 2005 need to be incinerated, as do another 50 tons of donations made to victims of the May 27 Yogyakarta earthquake.

The drugs pose a threat to the environment if stored over a long period of time, and may end up fuelling local black markets. But the cost of dealing with unsuitable or dangerous drugs can be considerable. The United Nations Development Programme, which is footing the bill for getting rid off the objectionable medicines from Nias Island, points out that at a cost of $250 per ton to incinerate dangerous medicines, a health center could be built instead.

The World Health Organization has established strict guidelines for donated drugs. They must be on a list of approved medicines, be in use in the receiving country and have, upon arrival, a remaining shelf life of at least one year. But these standards are frequently ignored. In Aceh, 70 percent of donated drugs were labeled in a foreign language other than English or Indonesian, contrary to WHO guidelines.

“In Indonesia, a Tsunami of Useless Medicines,” Khaleej Times, 28 July 2006.