NGOs absent in face of medicine shortages

Since this month’s uptick in Covid-19 cases across China, there has been a nationwide shortage of related medication. In an effort to alleviate the shortages, many people began to exchange much-needed medicines with each other, and some even gave away surplus stock for free to those in need.

WeChat mini-program helped millions

The Covid-19 Medication Mutual Aid Platform is a WeChat mini program launched by Tencent on Dec 20, providing a channel for the public to give or obtain necessary medication. The interface is simple and easy to use. In the information section, people can browse and view the posts of nearby or specific areas.

Tencent’s R&D team said that they intended to use the platform to display information in a more organized and standardized way, to match aid information more efficiently and to call for the sharing of surplus medicine.

Within two days of the launch, more than a million people logged onto the platform and more than 50,000 pieces of information were posted asking for or offering help.

Making mutual aid a mechanism

Compared with long delivery times and the unpredictability of online shopping, mutual aid between neighbors is timely and convenient. However, there are also concerns about the online platform. What if people with the wrong intentions use people’s kindness to hoard medicines? What if some people share fake medication on the platform?

To prevent these problems, the mini program requires real-name authentication and recommends sharing only limited amounts of medication to avoid commercialization. The platform also made additional efforts to protect personal information.

“Anyone may have medicine; anyone may need medicine. This kind of mutual aid system, which is confined to a small area or a circle of friends, can solve a temporary emergency, but the number of people who can benefit is limited. Responsible and committed NGOs need to step in and make mutual aid a mature mechanism which more people can benefit from,” an expert in the field told The China Philanthropist.

Few NGOs involved

The mutual aid initiative is a vivid demonstration of ordinary people volunteering to help. In contrast, NGOs seem to have been absent. One reason for this phenomenon is that, with the scale of the outbreak, many staff working for NGOs have themselves been infected or have had to take care of sick family members, leaving them no time to think about other stuff.

However, one organization did stand up. NCP relief has become one of the few NGO projects active on the frontline of this outbreak. The project started in the Wuhan outbreak in 2020 and has so far responded to outbreak relief activities in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

NCP offers remote medical support and tracks health-related statistics to identify people with serious conditions promptly and send them to hospital. If a patient cannot be admitted to a hospital, a team of medical volunteers can provide consultations online. Currently, about 200 patients a day receive this service.