Europe's largest medical aid organization, Action Medeor, has just marked 40 years in operation. But the South Asia tsunami disaster has presented the German organization with a challenge unlike any in its history.
A shipment of medical aid waits to be flown to Sumatra
When German airline LTU flew planes to the tsunami-affected countries to bring customers home, water purification tablets, mosquito nets, pain medication and antibiotics for 10,000 were also on board the aircraft.
The staff at Action Medeor in Krefeld knew which items to pull from the chock-full storage halls, and a new donation campaign was already up and running to finance further deliveries
For 40 years, Action Medeor has dedicated itself to helping in emergency situations, as well as fighting malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS. What began spontaneously as a private aid initiative collecting doctors' medicine samples is today Europe's largest medical aid organization, complete with professional logistics, research, and production facilities on location in Africa.
On a tour through the storage rooms, the size of the challenge Action Medeor has taken on quickly becomes clear. Around 4,000 square meters (13,000 square feet) are piled high with huge pallets of medication, blankets, bandages and medical equipment. Forklifts are constantly in use as deliveries for 9,000 health care stations in 126 countries are put together and packed for transport.
"In the 40 years that we've been working as an organization, it's always been important to us that health be a basic right," said Bernd Pastors, the head of Action Medeor. "But millions, even billions of people have no access to the most basic elements that make up proper health care. Our task is to work to improve that in cooperation with many other organizations."
Action Medeor's story began in 1963, in the garage of Krefeld resident Ernst Boeker. At first, the doctor planned to send clothing donations to the third world. But then Dr. Boekers had another idea -- he would collect doctors' samples, especially medication, to give to missionary outposts in developing countries.
It quickly became clear to Boeker that the collected medication didn't always meet the needs of doctors working in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and he was forced to re-think his concept.
The breakthrough came when he decided to order the necessary medication from European manufacturers in bulk. Funded by donations, Action Medeor could then give medicine either for free or at cost to health care stations or other aid agencies. The concept worked, allowing millions of people in developing countries to receive medication that meets European standards.
Volunteers pack aid supplies for the Tsunami victims
Forty years on, Action Medeor's staff of around 50 is working non-stop to deliver aid to the countries in South Asia that were hit by the tsunami disaster. To work more effectively through this catastrophe, Action Medeor has joined forces with other aid organizations.
On New Year's Day, for example, Action Medeor put together "health kits" meant to supply 10,000 people with necessary items and medication for three months. And a number of donation drives and TV benefit shows in Germany are supposed to ensure that aid organizations are able to carry out their work in the crisis regions in the weeks and months to come.