To reach medicines to those in need, Overseas Pharmaceutical Aid for Life (Opal), is setting up an India office to source free pharmaceuticals in the most innovative manner.
Tapping into millions of dollars worth of “waste” pharmaceuticals in Australia, the Kilburn-based NGO has a “double-header” benefit to offer. Opal takes medication within the expiry date, saving the companies the trouble of expensive disposal, sending it to over 50 countries in need of medical supplies. It also keeps the medicine out of the landfills, where it has been proven to cause lasting damage if it seeps into the water table.
Geoff Lockyer, CEO and managing director of the Australian NGO, was in Calcutta, with Steve Waugh, to hand over supplies to organisations the Australian skipper is associated with, including Udayan. “But when we saw the conditions, we felt the need was so acute that we decided to set up an office here,” said Lockyer.
Opal primarily provides medication and other supplies, like blood products, sutures and needles, to other NGOs working on the ground. It is also equipped to work in crisis situations. “We were called in during the last year’s bombing in Bali, in East Timor, and are now working in Iraq,” adds the founder-CEO.
The Indian headquarters is to be Calcutta, at the New Kenilworth Hotel, whose owner, Raju Bharat, is also president of the Philanthropic Society, an NGO Opal has links with.
The supply is purely need-based, with a list of over 21,000 products available at Opal’s disposal. World Health Organisation guidelines are followed, and NGOs need to get a stamp of approval before the tie-up.
Opal has, in the past, provided anti-retroviral medication to NGOs, but as “some of the most expensive medicines in the world”, there are clearly supply constraints. Also, as there are often two or three drugs that need to be combined, it is essential that there is a qualified doctor at the local end.
Around 17 companies in Australia, some of which have counterparts in India, hand over their unusable products to Opal. They could have been rejected for a variety of reasons — overproduction, the expiry date may be too close for commercial use or the outer packaging could be incorrect (though the bubble packs are accurate). Currently, all supplies are from Australian companies, but plans are on to tap the 100-odd Indian pharmaceutical concerns.
The environmental threat posed by incorrectly-disposed medical waste is huge, warns Lockyer. “Just looking around for the past few days, it is clear that the need for attention in the environmental area is great,” says the Australian, who is also involved in allied areas, like plastic recycling.