Global Business School for Health


Social Responsibility of Pharmaceutical Companies Towards Refugees and Migrants

22 March 2022

Dr Radi Haloub, MSc Biotech and Pharmaceutical Management Programme Lead, explores how biotech and pharmaceutical companies can lead a new approach of social responsibility towards refugees and migrants in response to various political crises.


Social Responsibility of pharmaceutical companies towards refugees and migrants: the community pharmacies are health mediators in host countries.


In recent years, the world has witnessed high levels of displacement of people due to political conflicts. UNHCR (2020, 2022) identified that most refugees are from four countries; Syria (6.7m), Afghanistan (2.7m), South Sudan (2.3m) and Ukraine (3.5m). Moreover, there are millions of informal refugees (or stateless migrants) who are denied access to basic rights in healthcare, employment and education. The variations of healthcare practices between the country of origin of those refugees and the host countries, in terms of legislation and financial resource allocation for health, could become constraints for accessing healthcare services. Recently, the Covid-19 pandemic added extra challenges on biotech and pharmaceutical companies, community pharmacists and healthcare representatives globally. 

Community pharmacies in the host countries 

Community pharmacies are the primary care contractors to support communities. Due to their role, they can have a positive impact on the interaction with patients, including refugees and migrants, to determine medical treatment options. Because of the frequent transformations in the healthcare sector, community pharmacies are becoming an essential part that should be supported by different stakeholders, such as governments, healthcare authorities and pharmaceutical companies. These stakeholders can sustain the role of community pharmacies as credible centres of health service providers. The increased emphasis on the role of community pharmacies creates opportunities for social research to improve pharmacy policies and practise internationally. The role of community pharmacy has therefore expanded beyond dispensing medicines to become “socially engaging and responsible” businesses that offer patients advice and support to promote optimal health. 

The role of biotech and pharmaceutical companies 

The main questions I pose here are, how can pharmaceutical companies be involved in this inclusive healthcare process? And, what is in their capacity to transform healthcare provision by community pharmacies to become more engaged with refugees and migrants? 

To answer this question, I am offering four suggestions that pharmaceutical companies can follow to become more involved in supporting the role of community pharmacies. 

1. Educating and supporting the community pharmacists 

Community pharmacists are remarkably underutilised in many countries that host refugees. Community pharmacists are responsible to support and encourage communication with patients. Yet, the majority of patients feel more inclined to ask doctors or medical centres for health-related advice, thus, limiting community pharmacists’ ability to provide healthcare services. In this response, the biotech and pharmaceutical companies can contribute to this process by inspiring community pharmacists and educating them to encourage more interaction and engagement within their communities in a cost-effective approach. For example, pharmaceutical companies can provide marketing materials that can be distributed in the community pharmacies to educate patients and encourage them to ask the right questions to their pharmacists. Moreover, communication with patients can be facilitated using medical aid brochures that pharmaceutical companies can provide as tools of communication. 

2. Collaborate with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and refugees’ support agencies 

In 2022, global pharmaceutical companies such as Roche, Sanofi, AstraZeneca, Bristol Myers Squibb, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline pledged support to Ukrainian refugees, especially in countries where access to medicines may be negatively impacted. These companies offered to provide a mix of donations and financial support to non-governmental organisations to support refugees. Whilst this discloses social responsibility actions of pharmaceutical companies that can offer a lot of value, involving community pharmacists with NGOs can offer more efficient engagement with the public and support for people in need.

3. Act local with an international approach 

The pharmaceutical companies have access to different markets and a good level of understanding of the challenges and risks which patients face when they move as refugees or migrants to a different country. The role of pharmaceutical companies can be expanded, particularly during times of crisis, through the creation of partnerships with local healthcare representatives to develop a more efficient infrastructure for supporting the demand and facilitating access to medicines. This of course will promote the role of pharmaceutical companies in educating and supporting the community pharmacists as suggested earlier. 

4. Logistics and supply of medicines 

The pharmaceutical companies can ensure that essential medical products will reach the people who need them within the crises zone. Pharmaceutical companies can integrate all processes, information, and resources to reach refugees in areas of turbulence. This involves being creative in identifying the ability to use existing resources to reach patients. For example, pharmaceutical companies are committed to supplying essential medicines to people who need them within the region, however, they have to comply with the control requirements and sanctions (in some countries). This would mean more uncertainties and vulnerabilities in the process of logistics and supply chain. 

Corporate Social Responsibility of pharmaceutical companies

Pharmaceutical companies are promoting the well-being of societies, leading several awareness campaigns, providing financial support and investing in various health projects. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a strategic approach that pharmaceutical companies implement to support refugees and migrants in different parts of the world. It is an opportunity for pharmaceutical companies to determine their actions and promote their role. CSR should include an implementations strategy and most pharmaceutical companies practice a triple bottom line (TBL) approach of environmental, social, and economic strategies in this regard. Such strategies support pharmaceutical companies in evaluating their performance more broadly, producing an overall positive impact and creating greater business value. 

The cost associated with these suggestions is an investment to sustain the healthcare framework. These suggestions present potential opportunities for pharmaceutical companies and aim to provide a positive contribution by building partnerships, encouraging pharmacists to ensure efficient supply of medicines, educating patients and engaging with society. 

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