We all know that our country, Papua New Guinea (PNG), with its diverse environment has been prone to disasters, both natural and man-made. In times of disaster, we as a nation have joined forces to help as best as we can – many a times through donations of whatever we can spare.
Medicines have been one of the items donated to the cause. Furthermore, well-meaning visitors (both local and international) have donated medicines to communities/churches/health facilities they’ve visited. The intention is good, but donation of medicines without following proper guidelines cause more problems than help.
Here’s some ways we can ensure the medicines we’re donating are actually going to help the people:
- Rule #1 for donating during disaster: People collecting donations must speak with the health team in the local area/on the ground to establish what the actual medicines needs are first. Often in disaster situations, the emergency items needed are not the usual day to day diseases they treat.
- Medicines have not expired, or are nearing expiry date.
- Medicines are still in original packaging containers and unopened. (Many times we see medicines package open, some medicines have been used and the leftovers donated. Quality of the medicine is affected and the leftover medicine is most likely not enough to complete a full treatment – especially for things like antibiotics).
- It is not advisable to donate prescription only medicines; again, consult the pharmacist/health team on the ground. They will be in a good position to provide sound advice.
- For medicines donated by overseas donors, they need to contact the National Department of Health (NDoH) prior to bringing the medicines in. This is to ensure proper documentation as well as whether or not the medicines are suited for our disease patterns, hence useful or not. (My experience: As an intern pharmacist many years ago, I was tasked at one of the big hospitals to go through boxes of donated medicines from overseas that somehow ended up at the hospital pharmacy. Sad to say, nearly three quarters of the total number of boxes of medicines were not fit for usage because they were mostly leftover medicines which were expired, nearing expiration and some were not the medicines listed in our country’s list of Essential Medicines. The hospital then had the costly responsibility of discarding the medicines which they did not ask for in the first place. If the donors had involved the hospital management in the first place, the pharmacist-in-charge would have provided sound advice to ensure maximum benefit of the medicines…not to mention the costs involved).
- The above also applies to donated medical devices: medical devices must be in good working conditions and accompanied with proper documentation on its status (new? used? calibration status? any defects? etc. Again, for overseas donors, NDoH can be contacted prior to bringing them in so biomedical officers can provide technical assistance on what our country’s requirements are. Local donors can get in touch with the health officers on the ground to gauze what is necessary for the level of health care they provide (e.g. can the health center use a power-driven equipment? If there’s no electricity, the donated equipment will not be helpful at all).
*Barbara Angoro, is a Papua New Guinean pharmacist and a PhD student at the University of Auckland. Some of her other work can be found on her personal blog: https://duresisodyssey.wordpress.com/