Press release |

Drug Donations in Health Emergencies- First Do No Harm

Geneva, 2 July 1999 — The recent World Health Organization audit of drug donations in Albania confirms, that once again, a humanitarian crisis has created a mountain of useless medications.  WHO reports that half the drug donations to Albania were inappropriate or unusable, and will have to be destroyed.  

"We in humanitarian organizations are the only ones who can break this cycle of waste,” says Dr. Bernard Pécoul of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). “Since companies receive huge tax breaks for drug donations, unless we refuse to accept misguided donations, we will continue to receive expired and inappropriate drugs. We are in the best position to say enough is enough.”

The WHO Albania report mirrors what MSF and others found in a study completed in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1997.  At that time,  there was a stockpile of 17 thousand tons of mostly useless or unusable medicines. Both in 1997 and again this year, valuable resources were wasted in sorting out good medicines from bad and then destroying large quantities of drugs.

All medicines supplied by Médecins Sans Frontières are procured in accordance with the WHO’s 1996 Drug Donation guidelines.  According to these guidelines, drugs need to first meet local demands, be on WHO’s Essential Medicines list, have expiration dates at least one year from the time of receipt, and have clear usage labeling.  In the case of MSF projects, needs are determined in conjunction with local health authorities.  

“Along with our peer agencies, we need to send a clear message that inappropriate donations will not be accepted under any circumstances,” said Pécoul. “If we collectively insist that WHO’s Donation guidelines are enforced, companies will stop using aid as a form of disposal.”

Especially in times of crisis, drug donations can meet critical needs, but only when managed by qualified local and NGO medical professionals. Once donations are accepted, it is also crucial that they are dispensed by qualified local and NGO health professionals.

Note: the WHO press release for Drug Donations for Kosovo Refugees as well as the Drug Donations Guidelines can be found at