Friday, February 11, 2005

Tsunami Cock-Ups

The response of ordinary people who gave so generously to the earthquake-tsunami catastrophe was exemplary. There are still problems in holding governments to deliver on their aid promises. And there are still ongoing logistical difficulties and coordination bottlenecks especially in war-torn regions such as Aceh. But surely there are also avoidable problems like the one highlighted recent by Pharmaciens Sans Frontières. In a recent report headed "Tons of inappropriate medicines in South East Asia", PSD tells of the absurdity of stockpiles of branded medicines that simply cannot be used and, further, in a region that produces much of the world's generic medicines:
... tons of medicines of all brands, from all countries, with package leaflets in languages unknown to the medical staff and too short shelf lives are stockpiled in warehouses and also in houses. In the city of Banda Aceh alone, a football field-size warehouse would not be sufficient to concentrate on a single site all the donations brought by different people and organizations and then left there for they are not needed. Even emergency health kits arrived in too large numbers and are no longer appropriate to the situation. And medicines continue to come in! The governments of the affected countries do not dare to refuse them for fear of offending donors.
PSF lays the blame quarely on the lack of preparedness and the foolish repetition of mistakes from earlier humanitarian disasters:
... the same mistakes are systematically made and the "need to help" comes before the "real needs" of recipient countries. Some may say "it is normal, we had to act fast". "That is not normal" Pharmaciens Sans Frontières replies, and wonders why governmental, inter-governmental and non-governmental humanitarian actors do not immediately meet in order to be effective and avoid penalizing the recipient countries with inappropriate donations, that they will have to destroy to protect the health of their people. In the age of communication, why is it so difficult to communicate?
As a result, much of PSF's work has been reduced to that of medicine "garbage collector". There are very clear international guidelines in place from the World Health Organisation. To put it no more strongly, all donors should adhere to them.

(Via: Black Triangle)

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