How you can get involved in humanitarian aid

Everyone will have seen the increasing coverage of disasters and health needs around the world in recent years. Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are stretched with supporting refugees on our doorstep, as well as deploying teams on the ground where the disasters strike.

Since I established the Humanitarian Aid and Response Network (HARN) (for any Royal Pharmaceutical Society member who has an interest in or has participated in international humanitarian aid work), I have had many pharmacists expressing an interest in getting involved in any way they can. Whenever I hear of opportunities and training programmes, I post them on the virtual network but currently few agencies employ pharmacists.

I spoke at the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) annual congress in October 2015 in Dusseldorf, Germany, about my experience of the challenges of working in resource-poor settings, the difficulties of sourcing quality medicinal products, the regular breaks in the supply chain under normal circumstances (let alone in disasters), establishing treatment guidelines, and the lack of information about health needs and demographics that makes quantification difficult.

At the FIP congress, I met pharmacists from other countries who are volunteering in the developing world under Pharmaciens Sans Frontieres (PSF). PSF used to be an international NGO but, since 2009, it exists as discreet country organisations in several countries, including Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Canada.

In common with Médecins Sans Frontières, the PSF fundamental principal states: “The principle of equality of all human beings and the fundamental right to a life with dignity as formulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations on 10 December 1948, which includes access to reference medicines, are recognised by PSF and will be adopted/acted upon.

“The PSF Movement endeavours, on a voluntary basis, to provide access to professional healthcare services anywhere to anyone without any discrimination according to race, gender, ethnic, political or religious affiliation. And it emphasises its freedom of action, and that it acts independently of any political, economic, ethnic, religious or military force.”

We are hoping to create a UK-based equivalent organisation that would come under the same charter, supporting the proper handling of medicines, ensuring quality and enabling the availability of medicines for patients in resource-poor settings.

For more information and updates, join HARN on the RPS website.

Trudi Hilton

Freelance pharmacy adviser in resource-poor settings


Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, January 2016, Vol 296, No 7885;296(7885):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2015.20200240

You may also be interested in