Pharmaceutical Donations. (MDS-3: Managing Access to Medicines and Health Technologies, Chapter 15)
(2012; 13 pages)


Most pharmaceutical donations are given with the best of intentions but can nevertheless create problems at the receiving end. Often, donated pharmaceuticals are not relevant to the needs of the recipient, or they arrive unsorted or close to expiry. They may be labeled with a brand name or in a language that is not understood. Many pharmaceutical donations counteract government policies or violate national regulations of the recipient country and can be expensive for the country to store or destroy.

Guidelines for pharmaceutical donations are needed for a number of reasons. Donors and recipients do not communicate on equal terms, and recipients often need assistance in formulating their needs. Many donors do not understand the potential difficulties at the receiving end and need guidance. Medicines require special regulations because they are different from other donated items. Pharmaceutical donations that occur without input from the recipient countries should be discouraged.

The four core principles for a useful pharmaceutical donation are -

  1. A donation benefits the recipient to the maximum extent possible.
  2. A donation should be given with full respect for the wishes and authority of the recipient.
  3. Items that are not acceptable in the donor country for quality-related reasons are also not acceptable as donations: there should be no double standards in quality.
  4. Effective communication between the donor and recipient is necessary before any donation.

These principles have been translated into a set of guidelines for pharmaceutical donations. First, recipients should review and adopt these guidelines and present them officially to the donor community. Only then can they be implemented and enforced. Second, recipients should develop and publish administrative procedures for pharmaceutical donations. Third, recipients should indicate to the donors, as clearly as possible, how they want to be helped, specifying the medicines they need, the quantities, and the priorities. Donors should inform the recipients well in advance which pharmaceutical donations are coming, and when.

The WHO Essential Medicines and Health Products Information Portal was designed and is maintained by Human Info NGO. Last updated: December 1, 2019