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Donating medicines? What you should know

| Duresi's Odyssey | Edited

AUCKLAND - We all know that Papua New Guinea, with its diverse environment, is prone to disasters, both natural and manmade.

At times of disaster, we as a nation have joined forces to help as best as we can – many times through donations of whatever we can spare.

Medicines have been one of the items donated. Furthermore, well-meaning people (local and international) have donated medicines to communities, churches and health facilities they have visited.

The intention is good, but donation of medicines without following proper guidelines can cause problems.

Here are some ways to ensure the medicines we’re donating are actually going to help the people:

Rule #1 - People collecting donations must first speak with the health team on the ground.

They know what medicines are needed. Often in disaster situations, the emergency medical items required are not for the usual day to day diseases.

Rule #2 - Medicines are still in original packaging containers and unopened.

Many times we see the medicine packages open, some medicines have been used and the leftovers donated. Sometimes the quality of the medicine is affected after it has been opened for a while. And leftover medicine is most likely not enough to complete a full treatment – especially for things like antibiotics.

Rule #3 - It is not advisable to donate prescription only medicines.

Here again, consult the pharmacist or health team on the ground. They will be in a good position to provide sound advice.

Rule #4 – The above rules also applies to donated medical devices.

Medical devices must be in good working order and accompanied by proper documentation on its status (new? used? calibration status? any defects? etc).

The National Department of Health can be contacted prior to overseas donors sending medical devices so biomedical officers can provide technical assistance on our country’s requirements.

Local donors can get in touch with the health officers on the ground to gauge what is necessary for the level of health care they provide (e.g., can the health centre use power-driven equipment?). If there’s no electricity, the donated equipment will be of no use.

Rule #5 – For people living outside PNG who want to donate medicines.

You need to contact the National Department of Health prior to bringing in medicines. This is to ensure proper documentation as well as to determine whether or not the medicines are suited for PNG disease patterns, hence useful or not.

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 boxes of medicines were not fit for use because they were mostly leftover medicines which had expired, were nearing expiration or were not the medicines listed in our country’s list of essential medicines.

The hospital then had the costly responsibility of safely discarding the medicines they did not ask for in the first place.

If the donors had initially involved hospital management, the pharmacist-in-charge would have provided sound advice to ensure maximum benefit of the medicines.

Barbara Angoro is a Papua New Guinean pharmacist and a PhD student at the University of Auckland. Some of her work can be found on her personal blog


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