Filling the Gap
A Non Profit filling brings in a badly needed medicines

May 1st, 2008
by Thomas Tomczyk


Working at the island's busiest pharmacy: Dr. Nora El Goulli, Dr. Maria Luisa Fernandez, Rally Rivers - pharmacy assistant.

Working at the island's busiest pharmacy: Dr. Nora El Goulli, Dr. Maria Luisa Fernandez, Rally Rivers - pharmacy assistant.

Barely a year after Medicines for Roatan has begun operation, the non governmental organization (NGO) has grown into an indispensable contributor to the Roatan public health system. 30% of all medicines used at Roatan Hospital come from one NGO, and the Honduran central government doesn’t even know about it.

“In theory patients at public health facilities in the Bay Islands are entitled to free medicines provided by the Ministry of Health. In reality, over 50%, 45,000 of patients go home without treatment each year,” a Medicines for Roatan pamphlet reads. “This results in unnecessary suffering, disability and death.”

In 2007 the Roatan Public Hospital pharmacy budget was at $135,000; the additional $60,000 in drugs was provided by Medicines for Roatan. Roatan Hospital has been consistently using the donated drugs as a fall back resource. As the government sends drugs to all its hospitals on a quarterly basis, the last two weeks of every quarter, every March, June, September and December, are the times when medications at the hospital typically start running out.

Dr. Nora El Gaulli, Medicines for Roatan president, remembers when her NGO filled in a gap in the supply of blood pressure medications to 250 Roatan patients and potentially saved lives. “We had the medicines donated and FedEx-ed from Mexico,” says El Gaulli, who created an emergency fund of $2,500 for just such situations.

After three years the process of working on the island has been streamlined. The customs lets the donated drugs through without problems, and the entire process takes less than two weeks. “We couldn’t make it without these donations,” says Dr. Lastenia Cruz, director of the Roatan Hospital. One of the prerequisites for importing drugs to Honduras is that they have at least one year validity. Some of the drugs donated to medical centers and clinics on Roatan comes in suitcases of tourists and are sometimes expired. According to El Goulli these medications can be dangerous to the patients. “Humid and hot conditions can break some drugs into toxins,” says Dr. El Gaulli.

Medicines for Roatan brings in over 100 prescription drugs, buying medicines at cost from international non-profit drug suppliers. “We are focusing on the rice and beans medicines: penicillin, painkillers, antibiotics- high volume, low cost medicines,” says Dr. El Goulli, president of the NGO. The Honduran government still has to provide all the less common and often more expensive drugs.

One of these drugs is the cocktail of anti-HIV medications. Roatanians diagnosed with HIV on Roatan range from a 14-year-old girl to an 87-year-old woman. “Family brought her in while she was in a coma, then took her back before we had results. We don’t even know,” said Dr. Cruz.

It costs the Honduran government Lps. 24,000, or $1,240 per patient per year to provide treatment. The Honduran patients, on Roatan almost all women, receive the medications for free. Since October 2005 the number of patients taking the medication has grown from 10 to 35 adults and five children. [/private]

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