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A worker packs boxes for the emergency health kit in a warehouse
An emergency health kit is prepared ready for shipment to HaitiImage: AP

German aid for Haiti

January 22, 2010

After the earthquake hit Haiti, millions needed immediate help. Medeor responded quickly to the disaster because it has been specializing in providing emergency health kits to developing countries for over 40 years.

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Since the 7.0 magnitude quake hit Haiti last week, German medical aid organization Medeor has sent 13 emergency health kits to Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince.

Now, the German Federal Ministry of Health has asked all organizations and companies in the German medical industry for donations and has given Medeor the task of coordinating the shipment of drugs and other equipment.

"Collaboration with such a reliable partner is important if we are to reach the people who most need our help with the minimum aid required by WHO guidelines", said Peter Schmidt CEO of the generic pharmaceutical industry association Pro Generika.

Always on stand-by

Because of the permanent supply of medicine in Medeor’s warehouse, medical aid can be speedily delivered to disaster areas.

Emergency packages, which each weigh up to 1 ton can provide nearly 10 million people with primary health care for three months.

Medeor's warehouse in Tönisvorst
Medeor always has emergency health kits ready on stock in TönisvorstImage: Sarah Steffen

The emergency kits contain amongst other things antibiotics, pain killers and dressing material as well as basic medical equipment such as syringes and scales.

Dirk Angemeer, Head of Procurement and Humanitarian Aaid at Medeor, is usually the first to be informed of a disaster at his organization via an SMS text message. Then he checks how many health kits are needed in that particular region.

The devastating scale of the emergency in Haiti has meant that helpers in Medeor’s warehouse in the western German town of Tönisvorst are working around the clock to prepare more boxes to be shipped.

So far Medeor has provided 13 emergency health kits, with another 4 kits being prepared.

Additional hurdles

Distance is not the only obstacle. Shipping medical supplies has its own difficulties.

"You have to organize import matters", said Angemeer, "you can’t just send off a ton of drugs and count on it going through customs."

Transportation on site often presents a problem as well since airports might be inaccessible and roads can be blocked or destroyed, as is the case in Haiti.

On top of that getting shipping space on airplanes can often be a tricky business.

"It’s still a brutally calculating business for air carriers," said Angemeer. "They say, ''It’s supply and demand, I will raise prices," that's also the case if emergencies happen."

There are always exceptions to the rule however; Angemeer recalled that after the 2004 Tsunami, one charter carrier bringing back tourists to Europe offered free shipping space for Medeor health kits.

Humble beginnings

Today, Medeor is Europe’s largest medical aid organization, but the NGO started out life on a small scale in the early 60s. Local Doctor Ernst Boekels lead concerned citizens in the Krefeld area of western Germany to collect and sort basic drugs and medical equipment to be sent to developing countries using make-shift spaces like children’s homes and dancehalls as storage areas.

The action movement soon gained momentum, attracting more volunteers from the surrounding area and ‘Action Medeor’ was officially founded on the 13th August 1964. By 1967 Medeor began manufacturing its very own drugs to attend to the specific needs of the countries it was serving.

In 1974, Medeor moved into its current warehouse site in Tönisvorst.

Sustainable development

In addition to providing low cost or donated supplies, Medeor handles its own health care projects in Latin America and Africa focusing on HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria. The inauguration of the Medeor foundation in 2001 has helped to provide longer term support of this nature.

A pharmacist produes drugs in pill form
Medeor teaches local partners how to produce their own pharmaceuticalsImage: Sarah Steffen

In co-operation with experienced local non-governmental organizations, Medeor now supports 10 thousand healthcare centers in 140 countries world-wide where local personnel are offered education and training. These health care workers can then provide medical care as well as information on prevention and treatment of dangerous diseases.

Local partners are also trained in the production of medical drugs.

Christoph Bonsmann, Head of Medeor’s Pharmacy Department, said that their goal is to "empower local partners to produce their own pharmaceuticals". This guarantees a better availability of drugs and reduces the dependency on the developing countries for expensive imports.

Future aims

Medeor is currently building a new production facility with funds from the European Union in Arusha, a city in Northern Tanzania. The plant is set to provide 80,000 Aids patients with the medication they need. The facility will begin production in a year’s time.

Reporter: Sarah Steffen (sz)

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