Adele Paterson on how pharma donations are saving lives

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Adele Paterson and the team at International Health Partners are passionate about exporting medicines to the most desperate people in the world.

When we think about medicine our default considerations normally involve what they can do for us or our National Health Service. We don’t place pharmaceuticals in the epicentre of war zones, extreme poverty or dictatorships. My guest, Adele Paterson, CEO at International Health Partners (IHP) is here to explain how they offer a lifeline to global communities who cannot access even the most basic healthcare.

Hi Adele. What is International Health Partners?

IHP is a small organisation; there’s only 10 of us. Last year we were, however, able to deliver over two million treatments across 30 countries worldwide. We provide long-dated, quality healthcare products to a variety of conflict, disaster and resource-poor communities. We occupy the space in ‘the middle’ – the brokers between supply and need. We don’t carry out the healthcare or administer the treatment, but we manage the complicated process of dealing with regulation on both sides of the process.

How do you manage to mobilise help as problems occur?

While people may think we are simply responding to unfolding events, one of our main activities is to support long-term programming in anticipation of incidents happening. In reality, we can only respond to disasters because of the planning we undertake with the pharmaceutical industry.

What does the preparation encompass?

One of the main programmes involves providing essential health packs, which contain 800 treatments from 15 companies, and can be accessed by UK and European medics and international NGOs (non-governmental organisations). We work with these pharma companies to ensure donations are made well in advance of a response, so packs are ready to go the moment they are needed. To be ready for January, for example, we are talking to them the previous April.

That’s impressive organisation, Adele.

One of the interesting statistics around what we do is that £1 of preparation is worth £7 once a disaster has started. With long-term programming and collaborations, we have already committed to deliver 400,000 treatments into South Sudan – an area of conflict and famine – this year alone. We are already planning 2019 because there are stakeholders who can only respond with a good lead-in time.

The donations are a remarkable humanitarian gesture from pharma that would surprise many. Companies producing, specifically to donate, results in far greater efficiency. It means the medicines go through the usual production process, get approved by quality managers and are signed off by the commercial side. They’re exactly the same products that you and I would receive – we’re regulated by the MHRA and only take European licensed products. That’s IHP’s unique selling point.

How do you maintain relationships with pharma companies?

The companies we have the best relationships with completely buy in to what we do and why we are doing it. One of the continuing principles is our ongoing conversations with partners in which we often say, “thank you for offering this, but actually we need something else”. Thankfully, we have a growing number of companies that are very willing to engage at that level. They realise that in different environments you need to give people what they need, not what companies might want to give away. And we provide feedback that demonstrates impact – lives are saved by some of these medicines – and this encourages ongoing donations.

What are the most essential medicines that people need?

When large numbers of people are on the move, and suffering from poor shelter, small problems can quickly escalate. When they are not eating properly, not sleeping well and are under constant stress a large volume of antibiotics, anti-fungals and analgesics are required. In unpredictable situations a person’s supply of chronic medicines can dry up, so we also supply medicines for conditions such as diabetes.

What happens when a crisis passes, and communities need to settle again?

In Sierra Leone, once Ebola had been eradicated, we supported the local primary healthcare operation with vitamins and deworming programmes. But what people really needed was mental healthcare medicines to help them recover from the post-traumatic stress. That’s been a really interesting development for us as has the move to chronic medicines, which we’ve fed back to our pharma partners.

So, you still work in areas long after the news crews have left?

Different levels of disaster and different time frames bring different medical challenges. Very rarely is a disaster done and dusted within a certain time frame, and many of our partners continue to stay. Nepal is a good example of a place we were involved in and where we continued to work two years after the earthquake. Recent disasters don’t have an end point, and that is particularly noticeable with the Syrian refugee crisis.

Tell me about your personal journey to IHP.

I studied economics and politics at university, and while lots of my peer group ended up in accountancy, I was motivated to work in a public space. One of my tutors recommended that I apply for a parliamentary intern scheme. I was accepted and during that time I worked for a number of parliamentarians, but I was particularly struck and influenced by the MP, Stephen Timms, when I ran his office for a couple of years.

How did that feed into your IHP role?

He had this incredible vision when he was leader of Newham Council, in East London, and he completely believed in the possibilities of a united community. He was involved in something called East London Business Alliance, which drew companies together with the goal of working together for positive change. I really began to realise what a difference partnership could make to people’s lives.

Which one record would you choose for the soundtrack of your life?

‘As’ by Stevie Wonder.

Genius. It’s your last supper, what are you having?

I want to invite my family, so something everyone enjoys – a great roast chicken.

Bless you, Adele, no one has ever invited anyone else along. Goodbye. 

Bye John.

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