Compared with the rest of the world, we are fortunate in the UK to have our National Health Service with its world-renowned accessibility, free at the point of care, its up-to-date facilities, a highly trained medical and nursing staff, and a backroom of scientists and support staff, and access to a vast range of high quality medicines.
In rural Africa, the scene is very different. For many, access to healthcare is difficult if not impossible. Doctors and nurses are few and far between. The few hospitals are ill equipped to care for the populations they serve. Equipment items and medical supplies are in short supply or simply not available. Medicines are often unavailable. When medicines are available locally, patients must pay though most are too poor. For the majority, this effectively removes access to care and frustrates healthcare delivery, public health and welfare.
In the UK, per capita spending on health is around £1500 per annum while the governments of most African countries budget only around £5 per head to provide medicines and vaccines for their populations. Even that may be distributed unevenly with funds frequently diverted to support other needs in the constant struggle of crisis management.
The rural poor struggle to find enough money to feed their families. Poverty and malnutrition is common, and public health suffers. Limited healthcare services face an uphill struggle to support communities but their work is further undone since few Africans can afford to buy medicines when they fall ill.
Substantial growth in global economies over the past 50 years contrasts starkly with conditions in Africa where many countries are locked in poverty. Governments struggle to support their critically weakened and often inadequate healthcare systems. Poverty is not conducive to health and a downward spiral of declining health and welfare is difficult to reverse.
Access to inexpensive medicines can be highly beneficial to the health and welfare of communities trapped in long-term poverty. Within this setting, the registered charity InterCare provides essential medicines for areas in Africa where the needs are the greatest.
InterCare collects surplus medicines from GP surgeries, checks and sorts them, then donates these life-saving drugs to hospitals and other healthcare units in rural sub-Saharan Africa. They also collect and ship small medical and surgical equipment items, and dressings of all kind.
The aim is simple, to support local African people in their efforts to improve both immediate and long term health needs, and to support the healthcare infrastructure through the provision of information and training materials to staff.
InterCare was founded in Leicester in 1974 by two British doctor’s, husband and wife Dr David Rosenberg and Dr Patricia Keefe. Now both deceased, they began with the knowledge of two simple facts that large quantities of useful in-date medical and surgical supplies are discarded in the UK each year, and that rural clinics in Africa are desperately short of these supplies. InterCarecontinues that work, in a fully licensed operation comprising a small core of part-time employees and a large team of helpers.
InterCare follows the WHO core principles of drug donations, that they provide maximum benefit to the recipient and respect the wishes and authority of the essential drug list. Effective communication with the recipients of aid guarantees targeted support. At regular intervals, InterCare staff and Trustees visit projects in Africa. This builds and sustains established personal relationships with local healthcare providers and provides an opportunity to gain updated information on their needs that provides the focus for the further efforts by InterCare and its supporters.
InterCare is fully authorized under Home Office license and holds an Environment Agency license to handle waste – returned medicines are classified as waste, even if destined for shipment and re-use and their work must be carried out under the authority of those licenses.
Patrons are Bishop Malcolm McMahon OP, Bishop of Nottingham, the Olympic and now professional world light welterweight championship boxer Amir Khan, and Mrs Margaret Greiff MBE. Currently, InterCare has 3 paid part time staff and 33 volunteers including 4 doctors, 5 pharmacists and 3 nurses who process the medicines and co-ordinate dispatch of these sorted donations to the medical units they serve. Presently, they supply medicines to no less than 116 rural units in 6 African countries – Cameroon, Ghana, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Zambia. At least twice a year, each unit receives a consignment of drugs and other medical supplies tailored to their particular needs.
In the past 12 months alone, the charity has sent over £400,000 of medicines and supplies to Africa and since 1974 more than £9 million pounds worth of unwanted medicines have been diverted from destruction as ‘waste’ and shipped to help those in need in Africa. Had these medicines not been collected, they would have been destroyed by incineration, sent to landfill or simply flushed down the drain, securing an additional environmental and ecological benefit from their work! And on that note, how about the Environment Agency waive the InterCare waste management licence fee?
Supplies travel to their destinations by parcel post as we find that the safest and best method. This greatly diminishes the risk of pilfering and more than 95% of parcels arrive intact. Collection from local post offices involves only a short journey for the local healthcare teams.
With the epidemic of AIDS in Africa, Intercare are dedicated to playing their part by supplying extra palliative care medicines to their units thus ensuring HIV positive patients are able to get medicines they so desperately require free of charge. That makes a huge difference to the lives of patients, to their families and careers, and to their dependents.
Although a small charity, InterCare has a significant impact on healthcare in Africa. The sick know that somebody cares, and it is estimated that across the combined areas supported by InterCare we have been able to contribute to the healthcare of around 8.5 million people. To maximize the impact of their work, InterCare works hard to ensure regular year-in year-out donations. This enables a continuity of care not previously possible, delivering to local medical professionals many of the drugs and supplies that they so desperately need, and additional educational materials that support teaching and rise the standards of care, and improve morale.
InterCare is a truly unique and humanitarian charity. Everyone who hears about them recognizes the value. They may be small but are practical, focused and have all the right credentials. With continuing encouragement and help, they hope to be able to bring in more medicines and finance, thereby increasing the number of medical units that they can support. There are, sadly, so many more waiting for help.
To continue the work of InterCare, we encourage GP practices to collect and send medicines for redistribution. A Doctor’s ‘information pack’ is available on request.
A financial contribution to shipment and running costs will help greatly.
For detailed information, see their website http://www.intercare.org.uk/ or speak to Diane Hardy, General Manager on 0116 269 5925.
Blenkharn Environmental and the Clinical Waste Discussion Forum are proud to support and promote the work of InterCare. We see many opportunities for support from within the waste industries. Perhaps this might be direct financial support, but also logistics support in the collection and bulking or onward shipment of medicines and other supplies.
Can you help?
Liaison with GP surgeries and others will raise awareness and spread the word about the good work of InterCare, and crucially will help encourage further enrollment. UK waste management companies involved in bulk disposal of unused dressings and of medical equipment items as well as single-use or other surgical instruments in good condition, can help provide aid for those in need. Please contact InterCare to put these items to further, and better, use for those presently stuggling to survive without those basic supplies that we all take for granted.
InterCare – Medical Aid for Africa is a UK registered charity (no. 275637)