Yes, $400 million is a lot of money, but you realize how far just a small portion of that goes when you see it in action, a Vanier College nursing teacher told a gathered audience Thursday afternoon in Kirkland.
"It really puts things in perspective when you travel around the world (to provide medical care) and you can't even find a piece of gauze," said Melodie Hicks, who has been travelling to Malawi on a regular basis for the last half-decade to help health-care workers in the African country get a hospital up and running, accompanied by Physician Travel Packs (PTPs), issued by Dollard des Ormeaux-based Health Partners International, a non-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to helping give people in the developing world access to basic health care – and packed with enough medication in each pack to treat up to 600 patients.
Hicks founded the Malawi nursing exchange, which sees Vanier nursing students spend time in Malawi working with health-care workers in that country, which has been ravaged by illness, including the HIV virus
"When we first arrived in Malawi with students in 2011, we were stunned by the lack of resources, human and physical, lack of medication and lack of equipment. I took one PTP that first year. The second time I took two. Next time, I plan on taking six. When we arrive with PTPs, the excitement is palpable," Hicks said, adding a full 17 per cent of Malawi residents are HIV-positive, and that health care is often an uphill battle against a lack of resources.
"In five years in Malawi, I saw more children have seizures than in my entire career at the Montreal Children's Hospital," Hicks said.
PTPs are assembled through donations made by local pharmaceutical and health companies. Pfizer Canada is the biggest West Island donor to the PTP program, Health Partners spokesman Christina Parsons said, but a large number of West Island companies get involved, including IMS Health, which hosted the reception Thursday.
"We have a unique role in Canada," said Parsons. "We work with the pharmaceutical companies to fill out the PTPs, with medicine from the generic side, the research-based side, supplies, and even vaccines, which we must handle very specifically in what’s called a 'cold chain,'" she said.
The organization is the only Canadian aid and health-care organization to have a relationship with a hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, Parsons said. Being able to mark the milestone of $400 million worth of medicine and health supplies is "very important," she added.
"What is so great is that we've been able to mobilize competing (pharmaceutical) companies to come together for a common cause," said Parsons, who added the organization has been providing help to the developing world since its first aid mission in 1990, providing support to health-care workers in the wake of a massive earthquake in Iran. More recently, the massive earthquake that levelled much of Haiti in 2010 has also been a popular destination of PTPs accompanying health-care workers.
Pfizer Canada manager of community programs Linda Sheehan said her company doesn't normally get involved in international aid, but makes an exception for Health Partners International.
"In terms of product donation, we donate about $2 to $5 million per year in good-dated product. It’s antibiotics, usually. The brands they need are very popular, so we often have to place special orders to fill the requests they make – and besides product donations, we also give a cash donation ($50,000 per year) to help with their other programs," Sheehan said.