NGO redistributing unused drugs looks to ramp up activities during war

After supplying army and community defense teams, Haverim LeRefuah seeks additional donations of drugs, equipment, cash to help evacuees

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Drugs and medical equipment being sorted for distribution at Haverim LeRefuah's situation room in Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv. (Courtesy, Haverim LeRefuah)
Drugs and medical equipment being sorted for distribution at Haverim LeRefuah's situation room in Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv. (Courtesy, Haverim LeRefuah)

A not-for-profit organization that collects drugs that people no longer need and redistributes them to those in need is looking for donations of medicines and cash to help communities dislocated by the war.

Up to NIS 500 million ($130 million) worth of unexpired medicines are discarded yearly, according to Haverim Le’Refuah (Friends for Health), based in Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv.

Those thrown away with regular trash end up in landfill sites, seeping into the groundwater and contaminating it.

Normally, the organization receives donated drugs from nearly 1,000 drug collection points — including all branches of the pharmacy chain, Superpharm.

The donated drugs are sorted into those suitable for distribution by Haverim LeRefuah, and those that are expired and must be safely disposed of.

Haverim Le’Refuah, which works with more than 1,200 volunteers, normally distributes free drugs to some 7,000 people monthly.

As of Monday, the group had supplied more than 250,000 medical items to frontline soldiers and community defense teams, and over 10,000 shipments of drugs for the wounded, both military and civilian, and for evacuees, it said.

In addition to further donations of drugs, it is currently seeking NIS 500,000 funding to expand activities brought on by the war, until the end of the year.

Combat gauze delivered to Haverim LeRefuah’s situation room in Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv. (Courtesy, Haverim LeRefuah)

Shortly after October 7, when Hamas terrorists from Gaza stormed southern Israel, murdering 1,200 people and kidnapping around 240, the organization took over a 500 square meter (5,400 square foot) warehouse from a pharmaceutical company and set up a computerized system to match the needs of soldiers and others involved in defense with donors and equipment manufacturers and retailers, according to Dalit Boutboul, responsible for marketing and communications.

Receiving requests from individual military units and cross-checking them with army doctors, the NGO secured equipment such as oxygen devices for military ambulances and smaller items such as tourniquets, bandages, and first aid kits.

Around a week ago, with the IDF much better supplied, Haverim Le’Refuah switched its focus to supplying drugs to people displaced from communities along the borders with Gaza and Lebanon.

Sorting drugs and medical equipment for distribution at Haverim LeRefuah’s situation room in Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv. (Courtesy, Haverim LeRefuah)

The organization, which is recognized by the Health Ministry as a pharmacy, has set up mobile units to reach concentrations of evacuees.

It supplies some with medicines they left behind after fleeing from terrorist attacks with little more than the clothes they were wearing, and others who have found it difficult to book appointments with doctors in an area far from their homes.

“Everyone is overwhelmed,” Boutboul said, adding that even if the drugs could be secured through the health funds, they were still only partially subsidized, and in some cases, would require recipients to choose between the drugs and some other need.

“We can give them a long-term supply of what they need, usually for free, for things like high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression,” she explained.

She went on, “We shine when it comes to the expensive medicines. A fifth of the drugs we supply, and 80 percent of the value, are not covered by the health funds, and these can run into tens of thousands of shekels.”

“We obtain them from people who have switched to alternatives, or have died, and we get supplies that are often close to the expiration date from more than 30 pharmaceutical companies.”

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