Letters - 16 February 2024

From Medicines shortage to Dichotomies of membership

Medicines shortage

The current medicines shortage in the UK is unsatisfactory, unfair and, for some people, unsafe. Among others, patients needing hormone replacement therapy, oral antidiabetics, antiepileptics and some cancer treatments have increasingly found their medication unavailable. Over 100 drugs are reported to have ‘out of stock’ problems, double the number at this time last year.

One effect might be to wake us up to the importance of regular medication supply. Last autumn I spent two months researching that question in East Africa. Stock-outs there are pervasive, in urban as well as rural health facilities and across the government, private and NGO sectors.
The experience was sobering. At one hospital in central Tanzania, twenty-four out of 107 items ordered in one month were out of stock at the wholesalers. In Uganda, one important drug had been out of stock for nearly two years.

The problem is compounded by the rapid growth of non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, coronary heart disease and cancer. Many health systems are not resourced to tackle that because the focus for many years has understandably been on infectious diseases (especially malaria, TB, HIV, and of course Covid-19), but also because of a lack of funding and organisational capacity. This leads to greatly reduced life expectancy and enormous social injustice.

Joseph Rowntree famously said we need to understand the underlying causes of social injustice. My tiny attempt to do that recommends relatively minor policy adjustment in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda and targeted investment by the private sector, which could make a huge difference. The research report is available at www.abhi.org.uk/resource-hub/file/17375.

I would also ask all of us to think about the millions who suffer poor healthcare in Africa and consider which charities there we might be able to support. The scenes I witnessed will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Jeremy Holmes


I keep in touch with the world and try to maintain a modest Quaker witness by homing in on information and on groups of kindred spirits such as the Quaker Council for European Affairs (QCEA), the Quaker Truth & Integrity Group, Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs, Faith in Europe, together with the Friend, the Guardian – and other publications that fewer Friends (perhaps) care to support.

My problem arises from the fact that most of these have historically had a set subscription rate. To take an example, QCEA used to have a set annual fee for associate members, who would receive print copies of the Around Europe newsletter plus invitations and other benefits. Now more and more newsletters are online with no print or postage costs, nor a need to maintain up-to-date addresses or to send payment reminders. For Quaker bodies, some financial support can be maintained, I hope, by looking to Meetings rather than individuals, leading either to planned donations or to weekly collections. (I hope we all install contactless devices!)

More to the point, Woodbrooke in particular no longer offers residential services to those joining courses. Instead we are asked to pay as led, since there are still costs that have to be met. As a not-instinctively-generous pensioner I find this baffling.

I think we may be losing out on support, and that there is something to be worked out in all of this.

Richard Seebohm

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