At the beginning of March, Belgian authorities sent medicine to Ukraine that would have expired just three weeks after its arrival, according to a report by the Flemish newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws.
Large quantities of medicine sent as part of Belgium’s €3.4 million humanitarian support for the country, which included 280,000 medicines and 140,000 syringes, would have expired shortly after their arrival.
Around 20% of the medicines donated and 10% of supplies have likely been wasted, as they may have expired before they could be used.
An additional 10,000 other items, Het Laatste Nieuws says, were scheduled to expire within two to five months of arrival.
This, ultimately, would usually be in violation of the World Health Organisation’s guidelines, which state that medicines must have a valid shelf life of at least one year to be donated abroad.
In a surprising revelation, the Belgian FPS Public Health admitted that it had knowingly donated almost expired medicines, but insisted that it did so with the explicit agreement of Ukrainian authorities.
“It had to be quick,” Dirk Ramaekers, Head of Crisis Management with the FPS Public Health told HLN. “But the Ukrainians knew that. They could see the list of goods and accepted our offer.”
Trucks loaded with almost expired medicines, with the blessing of the government, rolled towards Ukraine. This includes medicines which simply cannot afford not to work, such as heavy painkiller fentanyl, anaesthetic propofol, and morphine.
The government did later remove the nearly expired medicines from the shipment of medicines to Ukraine, however some now speculate that the government had attempted to dump its supplies of nearly expired medicines on Ukraine.
The Belgian government possessed a vast supply of medical supplies which had been stockpiled in the Brussels region as part of Belgium’s strategic stockpile for the pandemic. €98.5 million of these supplies are now expired and this figure would have been higher if not for the war in Ukraine.
The FPS Public Health official denied allegations that the government had acted in ill faith.
“The intention was to help Ukraine quickly and provide them with the products they urgently needed,” he told HLN. Ramaekers said, however, that the shipping of medicines within expiry dates in less than six months was not ideal.
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Yet just two weeks after the first attempt to ship nearly expired medicines, the Ministry of Health attempted it again, loading trucks with 140,000 syringes and 40,000 medicines with a shelf life of just over a week. These were later removed from the lorries in extremis.
This scandal will undoubtedly damage the image of the government’s swift response to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. Since the start of the war, Belgium has sent large quantities of military and humanitarian support to the region.