Dollars not drug donations: Aid agencies seek cash not meds for refugees in EU

By Gareth Macdonald

- Last updated on GMT

Irish Naval Service rescuing migrants from a boat as part of Operation Triton, June 2015.
Irish Naval Service rescuing migrants from a boat as part of Operation Triton, June 2015.
Aid agencies providing relief to refugees across Europe say drug firms should give financial support or make products more affordable rather than donate pharmaceuticals. 

EU states' differing responses to the arrival of people fleeing civil wars in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere has left many who survived the journey stranded with little shelter, food or medical care​.

Drug industry response to the ‘refugee crisis’​ has been limited.

Novartis told us it “has launched a worldwide internal donation program in support of the Red Cross and Red Crescent response to the refugee and migration crisis in Europe.

Our associates have donated more than $230,000 to date and Novartis will match all their contributions until the end of October​” the firm continued.

Novartis added it will also donate “€50,000 of medicines to the Austrian Red Cross and is supporting the Swiss Red Cross with additional funds and urgently needed medicines as requested.​”

Industry group EFPIA told us “a number of our members have set up their own [support] programmes​.”

No donations

The financial support will be welcomed by aid agencies working to support people who have fled to Europe, but the promise of drug donations may be less well received.

Joanna Keenan from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) told us “donations are often inappropriate for the settings for which they are delivered and can be revoked at any time by a pharmaceutical company.​”

Instead Keenan said: “MSF prefers instead to strongly advocate for pharma companies to lower their prices so that medicines are affordable for all” adding that “MSF is not alone. International agencies, such as GAVI, GFATM, and UNICEF also do not accept or recommend drug donations.”

This position was echoed by Joan Howe from UNICEF.

She told us “UNICEF is not soliciting donations of medical supplies. The situation is very fluid and at the moment, UNICEF is working with governments to assess the needs of children and families on the move, and to identify where UNICEF can best provide operational or technical support.​  

Howe added that: “In terms of individual and private sector support, we are focused on raising flexible financial resources​.”

Relief efforts

According to Howe “UNICEF has set up child friendly spaces and water delivery systems in resting points in FYR Macedonia and in Serbia and soon in Croatia with more to come as the situation evolves.

In health supply and service delivery, for example vaccination campaigns, UNICEF has been extremely active in countries of origin and in neighbouring countries hosting large numbers of displaced children and families​.”

Map of Aid agency activity across Europe as of end of August, 2015

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