Taking Care

Travelling with medicines – what you should know









Many Stuff Your Rucksack projects are crying out for medicines and medical supplies. Guest blogger Karina Jorgensen looks at the issues and considerations around donating medicines, including official advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In the richer western world, untouched drugs within their expiry date go to waste daily and are destroyed. It is estimated £100m worth of prescriptions are returned to pharmacy every year in UK alone. Medicine is so readily available to us, so it can be easy to forget that in some countries it is a luxury many cannot afford. It would be great to have large scale recycling system for countries to send surplus medicine to countries in need but until that day, travellers can help by taking some medication to needy projects across the world. Many of the projects listed on SYR ask for basic over the counter medicines that most of us are familiar with (see Julie’s Success Story).

It is very important to only respond to requests to avoid unrequired or surplus donations. It is a common but mistaken belief that in low-income countries, anything is useful, but remember that you are also passing on the cost and logistics of destroying expired drugs to the needy project! Always check with the organisation first to be sure of their needs. And while some projects seek more specific, complex medical equipment, it is best not to donate anything you are unsure about – leave those items to people in the medical practice.

The WHO has produced a document of guidelines for corporations on medical donations, and the full guidelines can be found on the WHO website. For SYR travellers, the following basic principles apply to anyone who is planning to take a sack full of helpful medicine:

–       Medicine/medical supplies should be completely unspoiled, and from a trusted source. If the quality is unacceptable to you, then it is unacceptable as a donation.

–       Medicine should be labeled in a language easily understood by recipient (and customs), including ingredients, expiry date, taking instructions and allergy advice.

–       Be aware of the remaining shelf life of the medication. If unknown, do not donate.

–       Always remember to bring copies of your communications regarding your donation when traveling and crossing borders with medicine.

If you do have any doubts about traveling with medicine of medical supplies including sharp object such as scalpels or syringes etc, it is best to contact the Foreign Office or Department of State.  In general, if you are unsure ask, ask and ask again. The team at Stuff Your Rucksack are always happy to point you in the right direction ahead of your trip.

Happy (and healthy) travels!