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Insight: Saluting the bravery of Ukrainian pharmacists


Insight: Saluting the bravery of Ukrainian pharmacists

I have total admiration for the bravery of Ukrainian pharmacists in the unfolding tragedy. Next time I have a bad day I’ll remind myself that, unlike them, I’m not under fire in fear of my life...

By Alexander Humphries*

As the Russians invaded, pharmacies were often the only services available in Ukraine’s towns and cities. I read one article describing how the few people still on the streets were standing outside pharmacies. Think about that.

Medicines are one of the very essentials of life. In a crisis like this people need food, water, shelter and medicines. I’ve read reports about pharmacies running out of medicines (I was amazed that they even still had them), and another about the difficulties of delivering medicines to pharmacies under siege. I salute the pharmaceutical wholesalers of Ukraine, who are clearly made of extremely tough stuff.

Remarkable humanity

I’ve seen remarkable humanity from our profession, with many collecting supplies for refugees in Eastern Europe. Some, like Zeshan Rehmani, a pharmacist from Manchester, have even gone to help out.

I read about Zeshan when someone shared a copy of an article in the Manchester Evening News describing how he will travel to provide emergency aid and risk assessments for displaced peoples for the charity Action for Humanity.

While one man cannot possibly change the tide of suffering, he has chosen to use his skills and knowledge as a pharmacist to help those in need. It is an incredible thing to do and I wish him well.

In our own way we have also been collecting supplies for onward distribution to refugees and I have been humbled by what our community has been prepared to give. Hundreds of products have been donated, which might seem insignificant in the general scheme of things, but we hope will still make a difference to someone.

We have also been deluged with requests to send medicines, which has proved to be much more difficult. To send actual medicines is fraught with risk and could actually make the situation on the ground worse for aid agencies and individuals.

Apart from anything else, the post-Brexit free trade utopia has not been realised, which means that customs declarations will be needed for goods crossing borders – and medicines will only make things much more difficult as they will not be compliant with the Falsified Medicines Directive. Chances are that they may even be destroyed by customs authorities en route.

“I can’t shake the guilt that I could and should be doing more”

A much better way of getting medicines to people is to donate to a recognised charity, such as the Red Cross, who will know what is needed on the ground and will work with local partners to make sure the medicines get those who need them.

Polish pharmacies have a duty to supply medicines free of charge to refugees who require them. I can’t begin to imagine how we would cope if the population of our town were to suddenly triple overnight, as has happened in places on Ukraine’s borders, with thousands of people needing emergency supplies.

The reaction of some pharmacists in this country to even one such request on a Saturday morning can be cringeworthy to witness.

As I watch these terrible events from my safe and prosperous town, I can’t shake the guilt that I could and should be doing more. I’ve started investigating how I might sponsor a visa for a Ukrainian refugee. I’m bewildered already by the bureaucracy, but if these people can walk 15 hours to escape a war zone, I can at least tackle a stack of paperwork to help rebuild somebody’s life. 

Wars aren’t about the big picture of who captures what town, but about the daily battle for survival and humanity. Our pharmacy family is under fire and in desperate need of help. I urge you to do what you can.

*Alexander Humphries is the pen name of a practising community pharmacist. The views in this article are not necessarily those of Pharmacy Magazine. How can UK community pharmacy help in the Ukraine crisis? Email

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