People often get supplies of drugs from a number of sources. Groups use many of the same sources. These include:
• local drug sellers, shops and markets;
• local pharmacies and chemists;
• health centres and hospitals;
• friends and family (sometimes using drugs that are left over from uncompleted treatment); and
• donations from supporters.
When there are many sources, it can be difficult to be sure that all the drugs obtained are going to be safe to use. The quality and cost of drugs can vary widely, depending on their source. Even when reliable sources are available, the cost of drugs can limit where people get them. However, the quality is always more important than the cost. Low prices are attractive but, if the quality is bad, the drugs may be ineffective or even dangerous. This, in turn, means that treatment will not be successful, further illness may be caused and, in the end, the costs will be higher in both human and financial terms.
You should therefore aim to get the best quality drugs you can at the lowest possible cost. This will allow you to get more drugs for your money, or to have more money to spend on other useful things. It will also mean that, if users of your services have to pay something for treatment, you will be able to charge them less. It is extremely helpful to spend some time checking what suppliers are available, and finding out what prices they charge and whether their drugs are of good quality. You can then select which suppliers to use regularly and which suppliers to avoid.
A group can use money more effectively by buying good-quality generic drugs. Usually the packaging is simpler and the drugs are not advertised, which reduces the costs of production and may reduce the selling price. Costs can also be controlled by protecting the quality of drugs through careful storage, good stock control and drug management from the moment of purchase through to when they are handed out for the patient to use for treatment.
Case study - How an NGO used a list of approved suppliers to buy drugs
When HIV/AIDS started to become a problem in the community, the monks at the pagoda knew that they could support and educate people about prevention. Soon, they also realized that people were suffering because they could not get effective treatment. So they set up a small clinic to offer traditional remedies and recruited a trained health worker to provide drug treatments for some illnesses that responded better to modern treatments.
They used money from donations given by rich people to start a drug fund that worked as an insurance scheme. People paid a small subscription per month and were entitled to basic treatments at no further cost. A senior monk managed the fund and the health worker gathered information about which drugs were needed. Together they investigated where to get drugs.
Trader A was cheapest - he seemed to have a lot of contacts and got supplies very quickly. But drugs were often almost out of date and many were branded drugs in a variety of packages with labels in different languages. This caused a lot of confusion about the names of the drugs.
Wholesaler B charged slightly higher prices and could not always deliver quickly, but he bought generics from only a few producers. The drugs usually came in the same packages and labels, making life easier for storage and dispensing. Once, when patients had the choice of ibuprofen tablets from A or from B, they said, "Oh, but we prefer the ones from B - they are more powerful, and they smell better than the ones from A."
Sometimes, it was even cheaper to buy certain drugs from a non-profit overseas supplier. Even though import duty had to be paid, the supplier provided low-cost, good-quality generics, and its supplies could be trusted.
So they bought drugs mostly from B. Although he was more expensive, the generic drugs were still reasonably priced and drug quality was more reliable. Twice a year, they ordered a few key items with long shelf lives from overseas to reduce costs and to make sure they always had enough stock. This made the service offered by the monks reliable and people trusted that they would get what they needed.