Bringing medication and medical care to people in crisis – the work of Americares
Where people lack access to basic medicines, common illnesses can be deadly. Sandoz has recently deepened its ongoing support of Americares, a global health nonprofit that provides donated medication and health programs for people in need.
Jul 27, 2017
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According to World Health Organization estimates, one in three people worldwide do not have regular access to essential medicines.1 Many of these 2.33 billion people are already vulnerable to poverty-associated health risks. For people without standard medical treatments, common illnesses such as influenza or asthma can become deadly. Americares, a health-focused relief and development organization, is doing its part to address this challenge, distributing donated medicines and humanitarian aid wherever people are in crisis, whether through poverty or disaster.
“The need can seem overwhelming,” says Rachel Granger, Vice President of International Programs at Americares. “We know we can’t solve the problem everywhere, but we can work to help as many people as possible,” she adds. Based in Stamford, Connecticut, Americares succeeds despite obstacles including time, costs and product security. Working with local healthcare partners, Americares health programs reach underserved communities in more than 90 countries, preventing ordinary illnesses from becoming chronic – or even life-threatening – diseases.
An overwhelming situation Imagine, for example, you are a parent, and your under-five child has a respiratory illness such as bronchitis. Without access to antibiotics, this curable illness can become fatal. Having already lost two children, Reyna and Alfonso Morales of El Salvador became concerned when their infant daughter, Keren, was suffering from respiratory symptoms, and developed pneumonia. Fortunately, Keren was treated with antibiotics while receiving medical care at a regional Americares clinic.
Keren recovered, but not every story has a happy ending. “We work with medical centers and clinics in countries where people don’t have access,” Granger says. “Although the healthcare workers do everything they can to address a patient’s situation, they may not always be successful.”
In view of the urgent need for medical access on such an enormous scale, people at the organization often focus programs in areas where they can make the greatest impact.
Responding in emergencies Although Americares provides ongoing access to medicines and clinical services to millions of people affected by poverty, the nonprofit is perhaps best known for its emergency programs. Disasters propel the team into immediate action. Upon hearing of an emergency situation, “energy suddenly charges the building,” and the staff moves “incredibly fast” through the chain of emergency response, coordinating logistics and supervising warehouse movements, says Granger. Teams can pack boxes in the morning for shipping by the afternoon. Meanwhile, Randy Weiss, Director of Corporate Relations at Americares, and his team are contacting donors, obtaining medicines and seeing how quickly they can get the products on their way.
One example comes from a recent health emergency, an outbreak of Dengue fever in Peru in early 2017. “People were lined up, and physicians had nothing to give them, nothing to be able to treat the patients, so they called us,” says Weiss. “We talked to Sandoz, and within a week, we had the products that were needed. This was one of those moments you feel you are really making a difference, and why being able to provide medication is so important. We’re not just listening to people’s problems. We’re able to deliver solutions.”
Whether emergency response, or ongoing humanitarian aid, delivering solutions includes proper distribution of donated medication. To assist in the process, Americares employees sometimes accompany shipments to their field operations. There, they share a sense of purpose with local healthcare professionals – and they’re touched by the dedication and determination they witness. As one example, Americares’ Rachel Granger worked side by side with physicians, nurses and other aid workers in Haiti following the earthquake in 2010. “These people are changing lives,” she says. “I’ve seen doctors and nurses pay for patients’ medicines out of their own pockets. They never give up.”
Founding father At the heart of Americares’ compassion is the story of its founding. In 1975, Operation Babylift intended to bring several thousand Vietnamese war orphans to the United States. Horrifically, the first plane evacuating 243 children crashed shortly after takeoff, killing about half of the passengers. Upon hearing of the tragedy, American paper broker Robert Macauley mortgaged his home to pay for a Boeing 747 to transport the surviving orphans to California. Macauley formalized his activities in humanitarian aid by founding Americares in 1979.
The nonprofit’s first big challenge arose when Pope John Paul II asked Macauley for his help in 1981. The Pope’s native country of Poland, under martial law at the time, was in desperate need of medicines and supplies. Macauley, whose professional network included ambassadors, corporate executives, and board members of major pharmaceutical companies, quickly collected medicines and supplies worth USD 1.5 million for Poland.
“We know we can’t solve the access-to-medicine problem everywhere, but we can work to help as many people as possible”
Rachel Granger, Americares Vice President of International Programs
Lives saved, health restored and hope renewed
Founded in 1979, Americares has delivered more than USD 15 billion in aid to 164 countries, including the United States. The organization responds in emergencies and provides long-term assistance in five healthcare areas: maternal, newborn and child health; infectious diseases; health system strengthening; mental health; hypertension and diabetes. Americares also supports outreach teams of healthcare professionals who donate their time and skills to perform operations and provide primary care services to patients. Some 97% of total expenses directly support programs and relief for people in need, and 3% represent administrative costs.
Sandoz has partnered with Americares since 1989. In late 2016, Sandoz announced a commitment of USD 10 million in medicines to Americares. “Our partnership with Americares is an example of how we take a strategic approach to philanthropy to provide access to underserved populations, ensuring our medicines get to where they are needed most,” says Leslie Pott, Sandoz US Vice President of Communication. “I am proud of who we are and what it says about Sandoz that everyone pitched in to make this a reality.”
Access continues Since these first legendary missions, the organization has grown in scope and size, responding to calls for help around the world. And once basic needs have been met in emergencies, relief efforts usually have to continue. When needed, Americares stays involved over the long haul to restore health services as communities rebuild. For long-term assistance, the organization has established offices in India, El Salvador, Haiti, Liberia, Nepal, the Philippines and Tanzania. Hope and health are needed at home in the United States as well, where the nonprofit is active in all 50 states, supporting health care for low-income and uninsured Americans. Americares also operates a network of free healthcare clinics for its low-income, uninsured neighbors in its home state of Connecticut.
When providing longer-term aid, the organization’s Access to Medicine Program divides medicines into two categories. The first aims to meet the needs of primary health care, explains Granger, and includes anti-infectives and pain relievers, for example. The second area focuses on noncommunicable diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes. Sandoz donates products for treatment of infections, cardiovascular conditions, eye care, skin conditions and musculoskeletal pain. These have been distributed in 14 countries to date. “The cross section of diverse Sandoz products helps us serve a broader community. Cardiovascular products are real life-savers,” says Granger, “because these are much harder for people to access.”
One place where heart medication is saving lives is in Afghanistan, for example. Dizziness, shortness of breath and chest pains were the symptoms a 46-year-old female patient from Dasht-e-Barchi, Afghanistan, described to her doctor a few years ago. He diagnosed a coronary artery disease, but she couldn’t afford the medication that would help her feel better. Her condition continued to worsen, and she was referred to Afshar Hospital in Kabul, which is supported by Americares. There she received a cardiovascular drug at no cost that had been donated by Sandoz. Within just weeks her echocardiogram showed healthy heart activity.
Hundreds of thousands of people with better health and lives are proof that the Americares mission is succeeding. Rachel Granger has an even bigger vision. “There would be nothing better than to put ourselves out of business,” she says. “Just imagine if we weren’t needed anymore.” Until then, the staff is motivated by the positive outcomes for patients such as Keren Morales in El Salvador, today a healthy 8-year-old attending school and planning to become a teacher. Access to basic medicines, and medical professionals to supervise their usage, can change a child, a family and a community.
Guidelines for Medicine Donations To make sure that medical contributions maximize benefits for the recipient, the World Health Organization, in cooperation with international agencies and pharmaceutical networks, offers guidance on “good donation practice.” According to the Guidelines on Medicine Donations, “Medicine donations are often used to support the rebuilding of health systems, or to ensure access of populations to health products they otherwise would not have.”
The guidelines establish basic principles for charitable support. Drug donations should be based on an expressed need. No double standards in quality should exist; medicines should not arrive unannounced; and products must have a remaining shelf life of at least one year.
In a crisis, supplying medications quickly is critical. However, many people mistakenly believe that “in an acute emergency, any type of drug is better than none at all.” In reality, thousands of kilos of pharmaceuticals might arrive in a disaster zone, but sometimes more than half of the medications are unsuitable. Many are near expiration; others are labeled only with the brand name or in a language not readily understood locally. Overburdened relief workers must sort, store or destroy such products, so they cause no harm nor end up on the black market. Sandoz strictly observes the international, interagency guidelines, both in emergencies, and as part of our ongoing partnership with Americares.