‘There is a lot of fake medication in Nigeria’: How one charity is providing trusted treatments

International Health Partners helps distribute safe medicines overseas. Rachel Jones writes about the impact of its Essential Health Pack scheme

TRUSTED TREATMENTS: Paul Akinpelu conducts a health check with a Kajola resident

NEARLY A third of medications sold in some parts of Africa are counterfeit, according to the World Health Organization. In the face of this problem, one London-based charity, International Health Partners, is helping to distribute safe medicines that patients can trust will work. Partnering with well-known pharmaceutical companies and aid agencies, the charity ensures that all the treatments it sends overseas – 4.4 million last year – are of high quality.

Its Essential Health Pack scheme enables UK-based individuals to take basic medicines abroad for use in facilitating medical clinics and training. The packs are portable: each contains at least 800 treatments, including antibiotics, painkillers, anti-fungals and medicines for hypertension, which are essential to support critical primary healthcare delivery in any setting. 

Birmingham-based Paul Akinpelu, a nurse and church pastor, travels to Nigeria regularly to run medical missions in rural areas. His last trip was to Kajola in Oyo state, working with colleagues to provide health checks and screening for diabetes and blood pressure. His team saw more than 1,000 people over a single fortnight.

ESSENTIAL CARE: One of the medical mission colleagues conducts a blood test

Paul discovered Essential Health Packs only recently. “Previously we would purchase supplies from a pharmaceutical company in Nigeria, [which was] a huge expense,” he said. “Working with International Health Partners allows us to do much more for much less.” 

Trusted medicines make all the difference. “There is a lot of fake medication in Nigeria, and patients find that the medicines they buy don’t work. People can’t always trust what they are taking. In some cases, there is nothing more than chalk in the packet.” 

Sheffield-based Muhammad Saddiq also travelled to Nigeria. In April 2019, he and UK-based colleagues (a consultant surgeon and an associate professor of midwifery) made the arduous journey to remote Kakara and Gembu, in Taraba state. During a four-day trip, using an Essential Health Pack, they treated more than 400 patients. “There are no health services there,” said Muhammad. “There is desperate, massive need.”

TRUSTED: Essential Health Packs contain at least 800 treatments which support critical primary healthcare delivery in any setting

One case concerned a breastfeeding mother who had stepped on a nail while working the land, but was too poor to afford help. Her right foot was seriously infected, bringing the risk of blood poisoning and death. Muhammad and colleagues cleaned out cow dung (a local remedy), removed necrotic tissue, and bought IV antibiotics at a local hospital. Supplementary antibiotics – enabling the woman to recover – came from the Essential Health Pack.

“The turnout was massive and we had to disappoint some people,” said Muhammad. “Part of the reason we had huge turnouts was because people in that region generally don’t believe medicines in shops are effective. Because these medicines [came from inside] the UK [supply chain], they could trust them.” He added: “Essential Health Packs cover a lot of the needs on the ground. When there is mistrust in communities, health outreach is a good starting point. It brings people together to work on something positive.”

International Health Partners welcomes enquiries from people interested in taking out Essential Health Packs. It can help guide carriers in applying for packs and taking them abroad. Carriers don’t need to be medically trained, but packs carry a nominal charge, and must be received and used correctly. Find out more here or call Patrick Keys on 0203 735 5489.

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