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INDEPENDENT (London) June 30


BETWEEN ONE-THIRD and a half of emergency medical aid shipped to the tent
cities of Macedonia and Albania at the height of the Kosovo refugee crisis
was useless and will have to be destroyed, the World Health Organisation
has revealed.

Shipments of drugs and medicines, much of it donated by multinational
pharmaceutical companies - who were able to write off their gifts against
tax - contained tubes of Chapstick lip salve, Preparation H haemorrhoid
ointment and anti-smoking packs rather than syringes, antibiotics, and
other essential drug supplies.

One consignment from an American medical charity contained huge amounts of
cough syrup and a children's fruit- flavoured drink for alleviating sinus

The WHO is so alarmed by the scale of the waste and the inappropriate
nature of so much of the material that it is taking the unusual step of
publishing an audit of what was donated for the benefit of the refugees.
It hopes to alert governments and the general public to the problems of
disposing of inappropriate medical aid.

The WHO wants to dismiss the belief, said to be particularly prevalent
among American donors, that all aid is welcome. "There is a mistaken idea
that anything will help in a crisis situation," said Franklin Apfel at the
agency's European regional office in Copenhagen.

Doctors and nurses working on the Kosovo borders, where hundreds of
thousands of refugees were given shelter, found that many of the drug
items donated were either close to or past their expiry dates, so they had
to be dumped. Medicines that were needed, such as insulin, arrived in such
minute quantities as to be of little or no help. "Large volumes of
supplies did not relate to any medical priority," Mr Apfel said.

Other drugs were either unpackaged or contained no instructions for use,
so they could not be easily distributed. Ideally, multinationals would
donate money so that medical charities such as Medicins sans Frontieres
could order the supplies and equipment needed rather than accept the
cleared-out contents of companies' warehouses.

One of the biggest issues arising from the problem is that unusable drugs
constitute chemical waste and safe disposal is giving authorities in the
beneficiary countries a severe headache. As Kosovo's refugees return home,
the problem is expected to be enormous for Macedonia and Albania.

"It is most unfortunate," said Valery Abramov at the WHO headquarters in
Geneva, "but we see this problem again and again. It took years to get rid
of much of the aid sent after the Armenian earthquake because the country
simply did not have the incinerators required to deal with the drugs."