Medical donations are not always free: An assessment of compliance of medicine and medical device donations with World Health Organization guidelines (2009-2017)

Sally McDonald, Alice Fabbri, Lisa Parker, Jane Williams, Lisa Bero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Medicine and medical device donations have the potential to improve access to healthcare in some of the poorest parts of the world, but can do more harm than good. World Health Organization guidelines advise donors on how to make effective and useful donations. Our objective was to assess compliance of recent medicine or medical device donations with WHO guidelines from 2009 onwards. We searched media, academic and gray literature, including industry and organizational documents, to identify reports describing specific incidences of the donation of medicines or devices. We collected data on donation characteristics and guideline compliance. We identified 88 reports describing 53 donations. Most did not comply with at least some items in WHO guidelines and no reports provided sufficient information to assess compliance against all items. Donations that fail to comply with guidelines may be excessive, expired and/or burden recipient countries with storage and disposal costs. It was estimated that 40-70% of donated medical devices are not used as they are not functional, appropriate, or staff lack training. More effective donations involved needs assessments, training and the use of existing distribution networks. The donation of medicines and medical devices is frequently inadequately reported and at times inappropriate. Guidelines need to be enforced to ensure effective donations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)379-402
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Health
Issue number5
Early online date21 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sep 2019


  • device donation
  • donation program
  • drug donation
  • low and middle income countries
  • medicine donation
  • World Health Organization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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