Humanitarian Health Action

New initiative launched to better supply life-saving medicines in crisis countries

27 October, 2009 ¦ GENEVA -- Humanitarian crises worldwide require intensive health support, particularly in the safe delivery of medicines. Searing heat, long distances, damaged infrastructure and insecurity are among many challenges facing humanitarians trying to treat people affected by war and natural disasters.

A new initiative to train experienced logisticians and medical specialists to better handle the supply of vaccines, anti-virals and other drugs has been launched. This will help ensure medicines will be both delivered and administered more effectively to people in need. Many logisticians work in the humanitarian sector, but not all are trained in how to best handle the supply of medicines.

A "Certification in Humanitarian Medical Logistics Practices" (MedLog) has been launched by United Nations agencies and partner international organizations. The distance learning course is being conducted by the Fritz Institute and the Chartered Institute of Transport and Logistics (CILT UK) within their Humanitarian Logistics Certification Programme.

MedLog can be completed within six months and students receive guidance from a professional logistician. The training focuses on what is needed to operate the supply chain for medical items. Special emphasis is placed on preventing the introduction of counterfeit or substandard drugs to the supply chain.

In many crises around the world, tons of medicines are wasted due to improper handling. Many medicines are perishable and should be delivered appropriately within a "cold chain," a temperature-controlled supply chain used to ensure the quality of drugs. If not, they could perish and will, in turn, not be usable by health staff to treat patients; a loss in both human and economic terms.

"In many emergencies, I have noticed gaps in terms of handling the logistics needs of medical supplies," said Fred Urlep, a logistician with WHO's Health Action in Crises Cluster. "During the Cyclone Nargis crisis in Myanmar, an air bridge was set up between Bangkok and Yangon to supply NGOs and partners with essential needs. Medical supplies from some NGOs and partners were transiting in Bangkok but no facilities were provided for specific drugs that required handling via a cold chain. Fortunately we intervened and helped establish a cold chain to avoid losses of medical supplies."

Key international partners involved in the course are WHO, World Food Programme, UNICEF, International Committee of the Red Cross, International Federation of the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières-Switzerland. Three global learning institutions have helped develop the course - the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport-UK, People Development Group and the Logistics Learning Alliance.

Funding for the course has been provided by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the European Community Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The course provides skills to help plan medical programmes with logistics implications in mind and ensure the quality and proper handling of medicines in the field. Experienced logisticians from UN agencies, Red Cross and NGOs have helped in the practical development of this course. Those who successfully complete the course will be awarded a Certificate in Humanitarian Medical Logistics Practices by CILT (UK).

For more information, go to:

Paul Garwood
Communications Officer
Health Action in Crises
WHO, Geneva
Mobile: +41 7974 555 46

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