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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Wrong aid, wrong places

"I think most aid gets to the hospitals. The problem is that it's not what they need". --Hugh Carpenter


An unexpected delivery of some 10 boxes of oral antibiotics might seem like good news for St. Vladimir's Children's Hospital, which is always short of supplies. But there is only one problem: the antibiotics are for adults only, and most will expire before they can be used.


Yet while the boxes sit stacked to the ceiling at St. Vladimir's, Moscow State Clinical Hospital 33 -- only a few blocks away -- is in desperate need of antibiotics.


"St. Vladimir's has goods stacked up to the ceiling in the basement, but nobody says, 'go away'", said Hugh Carpenter, medical secretary for the British Embassy. "It's not human nature. How many Christmas presents do you give back? You just have to make room for them".


The problem reflects a growing concern about the distribution of foreign aid. While there are widespread complaints that groups handling the imported aid -- from truck drivers to shopkeepers to doctors -- take por-tions to give away or sell, the real problem appears to be the lack of central coordination.


The mishaps are numerous: essential vitamins for pregnant women delivered to a home for abandoned children, condoms to a children's hospital, and an unexpected notice that a plane load of perishable meat would be arriving from abroad in a mere two hours.


Foreign aid distributors blame a lack of central organization in Russia for the problem. While a commission was created in December, it is still too new to be effective, officials say.


All too often, hospitals and other social institutions receive goods they don't need, or supplies that will expire before they can be used. St. Vladimir's, for example, also received tons of sausages that were too close to expiring to be consumed. "We had to use them as soon as possible", said Oleg Paches, the hospital's assistant director. "When the date expired, we were afraid to give the rest to the children, so we gave them to hospital workers who wanted to take the risk".


But sending back perished items is politically sensitive, said Alexander Jitnikov, deputy chairman of the Russian Commission for International Humanitarian and Technical Aid.


"It's not a comfortable situation", he said, adding that the biggest problem "is still coordination and distribution".


Carpenter, said: "I think most aid gets to the hospitals. The problem is that it's not what they need. Organizations are incapable of dealing with this type of need statistically. "It's like delivering fruit to a small town. Mrs. Jones wants plums, but Mrs. Smith wants bananas", he added. "The aid is always insignificant and inappropriate. There are a few common needs, but not many".


Robert Walters, head of U. S. humanitarian assistance in Moscow, agreed. Last month, the United States sent about $33 million worth of food and medical supplies leftover from American reserves in Europe for the Persian Gulf War. and yet, Walters said, it is difficult to identify who needs what.


"It's very hard to find out exactly where the need is, where the deepest pockets of personal despair are", Walters said. "The Russians realize this, and they have begun to set up that function. We see this as a Russian problem that they're going to have to come to terms with".


To make matters even worse, none of the former Soviet republics have even begun to set up central coordinating commissions.


"The Russians don't have a clue, nor do they care what's happening in the republics", said one Western aid official who did not want to be named. "The Commonwealth of Independent States itself doesn't have a lot of political strength and identity".


In the meantime, Jitnikov's 29-member commission, which includes ministers and deputies of Russia's departments of labor, health, defense and foreign affairs, struggles on in their building on Kirovsky Proezd. The commission has so far received 10 billion rubles worth of aid, Jitnikov said.


The central coordinating hub -- for all of Russia -- is a room with a long table, five computers, 10 chairs, and a large blackboard that keeps track of which countries are flying what aid in that day.


The commission is still in the process of getting officials from various foreign private, government and multi-government donating agencies, including the U. S. government and the European Community, to work with them, in the same office, on a daily basis.


Walters, who attended a meeting where the commissioners were preparing the first three month report, compared it to a New England town meeting. "There's a real give and take between commissioners", he said. "The commission is slowly finding its way".


Indeed, improvements are noticeable.


Before this year, most foreign aid was sent to Moscow, with only a small amount straying into St. Petersburg. But now the commission has targeted some 31 regions that need the most help. That's about 65 million people, mostly pensioners and mothers with small children, Jitnikov said.


Still, the improvements are slow, and coordination remains a problem.


"There should be a system established", said Gennady Lukin, chief doctor at Filatov Children's Hospital 13, at a recent meeting of foreign and Russian Moscow-based doctors. "Some medicines being delivered that are essential for practice are not even enough for one patient's treatment".


Some countries, though, are coming up with creative ways to try to solve the problem.


Canada, for example, recently donated $6 million worth of medical supplies to Russia and the new republics. But the aid was delivered only after the Canadian Red Cross conducted a survey to find out what hospitals need, said John Gullick, Canadian relief administrator for the International Federation of Red Cross, in a recent interview.


Even so, Gullick admitted, while the supplies are delivered by guarded trucks, there is no inspection system in place to ensure that the goods stay in the hospitals. The Americans, on the other hand, hire at least a few -- about, 25 -- college-age Americans to routinely spot check their donation sites, - Walters said. He said the number will increase when about 150 Peace Corps workers come to Russia next fall


Some private companies, painfully aware of the problems, are also beginning to bypass the bureaucratic hurdles.


One German company, fed up with the bureaucracy, general inefficiency -- and, apparently, even official requests for bribes -- decided to donate and deliver $500, 000 worth of foreign aid on its own.


Joachim Kurzrock, owner of Petermax Mueller, a German car company, will be supplying 500 Moscow new-borns with baby-food for the next two years. Kurzrock's son, Jorn, a sales representative for a Russian-Austria joint venture in Moscow, came up with the idea, and got his company, Wang Computers Systems, involved in distributing the food.


The first installment --1, 000 boxes of baby-food -- was delivered March 7. Parents, randomly picked by four Moscow maternity hospitals, came to Wang's offices and traded in numbered coupons for food -- without an intermediary. That way, Kurzrock said, people get what they need.


"I'm very grateful. This was quite unexpected, and very pleasant and comforting", said Irina Shalayava, 29, as she loaded up food from a barren table dressed only with a vase of bright orange tulips. "From the human point of view, psychologically, it's also very good to know that somebody is thinking about you, and that you are not alone".


Shalayava, a single mother, has quit her job as a 920-ruble-a-month hospital, dispatcher to raise her first child, Denis, one month old.


For now, experts agree that helping feed people like Denis Shalayava on a day to day basis is enough. Yet all say that the next step is urgently required:


to help Russians help themselves.


"We receive all kinds of humanitarian aid", Lukin, of Filatov's Children's Hospital said. "For example, 20 tons of milk each day and 27, 000 tons of food. We have enough for breakfast and lunch, but we need investment in Rus-sian industry instead of these tiny gifts".


Added Walters: "The Russians say they are grateful for powdered milk for their children, for example, but they say that what they really need is the capability to make it themselves".