Delivering life-saving medical aid to those who need it most creates a complicated logistical challenge. Moving medicines and equipment over state lines and international borders present hurdles few organizations can overcome, even while the global need for such supplies grows.
Meeting that need is at the heart of Direct Relief’s mission, and the California-based nonprofit is the first and only humanitarian aid organization to be FDA-registered as a wholesale drug distributor and is licensed to distribute prescription drugs into all 50 states. The organization also distributes to 70 countries around the world.
To keep up with global demand and more rigorous oversight on prescription drugs, the organization broke ground Thursday on what will be the largest distribution hub for humanitarian medical aid in the United States.
Several decades ago, all that was required to ship medical aid was a warehouse and a humanitarian mission. Today, stringent regulations govern what can be sent where and to whom. Extensive tracking in all stages of the supply chain — down to the number of units — is essential.
“The noblest of missions is no longer sufficient in and of itself to qualify to provide humanitarian medical aid in the 21st century,” said Judy Partch, Direct Relief’s director of administration and compliance.
Whether drugs are shipped with a commercial or a humanitarian purpose in mind, the same laws, regulations and licensing agreements apply.
Direct Relief must maintain over 70 distinct licenses in the proper locations, make sure the products are stored correctly and aren’t diverted into the black market, as well as monitor the myriad of local and national laws that apply.
In recent years, the bar has been raised even higher.
To address counterfeit and unsafe drugs entering the marketplace, lawmakers approved the Drug Supply Chain Security Act in 2013, which outlined a system that would trace pharmaceutical products through the supply chain. This law preempted existing state laws and a national standard was put into place for wholesale distribution of drugs.
Direct Relief’s new medical distribution center and headquarters will meet those heightened federal requirements for security and storage of prescription medications. The new facility, expected to open in 2018, will also increase efficiencies for Direct Relief’s expanding humanitarian activities that serve people throughout the United States, and globally.
Now the ninth-largest U.S. charity, according to Forbes, Direct Relief runs the largest charitable medicines program in the United States and is among the largest providers of humanitarian medical aid in the world, both to meet ongoing needs and in response to emergencies.
“More than ever before in its 68-year history, Direct Relief is being called upon to assist people who are vulnerable – who endure poverty or crisis situations, and who often confront both,” said Thomas Tighe, Direct Relief President and CEO. “This is a pivotal moment in Direct Relief’s history and essential to its future.”
By incorporating state-of-the-art distribution technology, it will also transform how the organization mobilizes medical aid and dramatically increase the efficiency of its services.
To complete and endow the new facility, Direct Relief today announced a $40 million fundraising campaign, for which it already has secured $25 million in private gifts and pledges from corporate partners such as FedEx, foundations such as the Zegar Family Foundation, and members of the community.
“FedEx is honored to support the lifesaving work of Direct Relief as part of our FedEx Cares initiative,” said Patrick Fitzgerald, senior vice president, Integrated Marketing and Communications at FedEx. “The new headquarters and medical distribution warehouse will help Direct Relief do what it does best – provide immediate relief to men, women and children who need it most.”
Investment in this global supply chain will allow these medicines and equipment to reach every corner of the world, places where Direct Relief is uniquely suited to go.