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[e-drug] 25 years of E-drug family: 1995-2020

E-DRUG: 25 years of E-drug family: 1995-2020

25 years ago, on 3rd February 1995 Wilbert Bannenberg posted the idea of E-drug 
in a message to people working on essential drugs (see at the bottom). The 
response was very positive: at least 200 people wanted to join the initiative. 

A small group of public health consultants then decided to start an email 
communication network to promote the concept of essential drugs (since then 
renamed as essential medicines). They formulated the objective of E-drug as 
follows: "to promote the concept, and share information about essential 
medicines by improving communications between health professionals working in 
the field of essential medicines." This objective is still valid 25 years later.

The initiators looked for a possibility to start an offline email discussion 
group. Satellife, a Boston USA based non-governmental organisation, offered to 
host the email discussion group, as their objective is to promote better health 
through email access to health workers in developing countries. E-drug's first 
message was posted 30 June 1995.

A small team of volunteer moderators took turns to moderate the messages for 
quality, relevance and language over the 25 years: Beverley Snell, Kirsten 
Myhr, Syed Rizwanuddin Ahmad, Richard Laing, Hilbrand Haak, Douglas Ball and 
Wilbert Bannenberg. Unfortunately, Hilbrand Haak passed away in 2018.  

E-Drug was made possible thanks to professional support from various NGOs: 
Satellife, Healthnet, Academy for Educational Development (AED) and finally 
FHI360. All of them sponsored the E-drug lists by providing free hosting and 
maintenance, as they saw the relevance of digital communications in health. 

Behind these organisations content and IT staff kept the servers running: Leela 
McCullough, Holly Ladd (who unfortunately passed away July 2014), Balazs 
Kosaras, Daniel Bullard-Sisken and Sewa Agbodjan. They have been a tremendous 
team behind the scenes to ensure that the E-drug servers remained operational 
and funded!

Over the 25 years, 17642 messages have been exchanged in E-drug: the number 
peaked at 1301 in 2001, and has gradually declined to about 400 per year. All 
E-drug messages are still available at the archives, and they document the 
history of the essential medicines movement: 

Although the number of E-drug messages is reducing, the number of subscribers 
is still increasing:

1996       346
2000      1167
2005      2613
2010      3954
2015      4155
2020      4212

The English language E-drug also has sister listservs in other languages:

E-med (French) was created in December 1997 (it is 22 years old), and has 1542 
subscribers. It is currently moderated by Carinne Bruneton with co-moderators 
Jerome Sclafer (La Revue Prescrire), Michel Laloge, and Jerome Dumoulin. E-med 
has exchanged even more messages than E-drug: 19283.

E-Lek (Russian), moderated by Liliya Eugenevna Ziganshina. It has 1815 
subscribers and saw 2701 messages.

Unfortunately the Spanish version E-farmacos and the India specific India-drug 
closed in 2014.

E-drug started as an off-line, plain text (ASCII) email service, as broadband 
Internet and 3G were not yet available. Users in low-income countries could 
only connect through bulletin-board style connections like FIDONET. 

Satellife, our first E-drug host, was an international not-for-profit 
organization set up in 1988 by the International Physicians for the Prevention 
of Nuclear War, recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. When "Star Wars" was 
threatening to make space yet another battleground, IPPNW co-founder and co- 
president Dr. Bernard Lown suggested the creation of a satellite-based global 
health communications system as a means of demonstrating that space can unite 
rather than further divide humankind. The HealthSat satellites launched in 1991 
and 1993 flew low-orbit polar routes, and they covered every piece on earth at 
least three times a day for 15 minutes. A small ground station allowed health 
workers in the middle of nowhere to send simple ASCII text messages to the 
satellite, who would store & forward them when again over London or Boston. Any 
E-drugger in rural Africa still remembering this age?

Satellife created Healthnet, an appropriate and sustainable communications 
network for health workers in 25 developing countries and support groups in UK 
and USA. This made it possible for health professionals in the developing world 
to communicate and to share health information, thereby making an appreciable 
dent in the information poverty that hinders their work. E-drug still runs in 
the Healthnet.org domain!

In 2006 Satellife joined the Academy for Educational Development (AED), an 
independent, non-profit organization committed to solving social problems and 
building the capacity of individuals, communities, and institutions to become 
more self-sufficient, to form the AED-SATELLIFE Center for Health Information 
Technology. Holly Ladd wrote in 2006: "SATELLIFE's initiatives to strengthen 
the global health community by facilitating dialogue and disseminating relevant 
information on the world's most urgent health topics fit well with AED's 
mission to implement solutions to critical social problems."

E-drug, E-Med and E-Lek were only a few of the 50 email systems that 
AED-Satellife hosted. Health workers in developing countries benefitted many 
years from free services such as HealthNet-News. AFRO-Nets is also still 

In 2011 AED ceased to exist, and its projects were merged with Family Health 
International to form FHI360, which has taken care of hosting and supporting 
E-drug since then.

The landscape of digital communication has changed dramatically in the 25 
years: Internet is now easily accessible in the developing world, and social 
media like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter offer other ways to communicate. 

Five years ago we asked E-druggers whether it was still useful. Many of you 
asked us to continue. So we did, and we plan to take it further.  

There is however a need to reorganize ourselves - we will post another 
important message on this topic tomorrow.

On behalf of all E-Drug family moderators, 

Beverley Snell, Kirsten Myhr, Richard Laing, Carinne Bruneton, Liliya 
Ziganshina and Wilbert Bannenberg

Email: mailto:e-drug-family@e-drug.org

PS Below the first email that started E-drug 25 years ago!

----- Copy of the very first E-drug message of 3 February 1995 ---------
Dear all,
E-drug, issue number 1, 3 February 1995
To: all involved in essential drugs and accessible by email
Dear colleagues,
Communication is a basis for development. Especially health professionals in 
developing countries cannot afford telephone and fax lines. Normal postal 
services are too slow and unreliable.
Simple computer networks offer affordable alternatives:
electronic mail. HEALTHNET provides free communication for health workers in 
developing countries using computer lines and a low- orbit satellite.
Health professionals interested in essential drugs, however, need to find 
colleagues overseas who are willing to share information, ideas and 
encouragement. An organised network of essential drugs professionals did not 
yet exist in the Internet. As most people in developing countries have only 
access to "offline" electronic mail, an international directory of essential 
drugs related email addresses was a first priority. For nine months I have been 
collecting email addresses of health professionals involved in essential drugs 
and possibly useful Internet addresses. The result is attached.
In order to upgrade this list to a more professional level, your active 
cooperation is needed.
Can you please inform me:
1. whether you agree to be on this list (we plan to distribute this list only 
to non-profit, essential drug professionals. If you do not like to be 
mentioned, please inform me!)
2. if you agree to stay on the list, please tell me how you would like to be 
described (max 3 lines of text, please).
3. whether you are willing to help expanding the list, e.g., by sending me all 
email addresses of people and institutions (related to essential drugs) that 
you know, but who are not yet listed on this list.
4. all your suggestions, ideas and criticism.
Please send your feedback to:  mailto:wilbertb@*****.nl
Possible future developments could include:
- the launch of an ESSENTIAL DRUG LISTSERVER: this is a central computer where 
you can send all your ideas, questions and information by email message. The 
computer then automatically sends your message to all people subscribing to the 
list (free of charge). This technique enables health professionals in 
developing countries with access to "offline" email to participate actively in 
ongoing discussions. To see an example, subscribe to the PHARMACY MAIL EXCHANGE 
to get the idea; this LISTSERVER discusses mainly "northern" pharmacy problems 
in developed countries, though. We need a separate discussion group on 
essential drug topics is my opinion. Offers to "host" this LISTSERVER are 
welcome (needs computer space and some moderation)
- the launch of an electronic Newsletter (current working title:
E-Drugs). This would be a centrally compiled Newsletter about all aspects of 
essential drugs. Subscribe to PHNFLASH published by the Worldbank to get the 
idea: the newsletter highlights new reports, courses and jobs. Readers can 
request more information or full copies of reports from the same computer by 
sending a simple email message. I am willing to send such a Newsletter out on 
an irregular basis, but it would need more resources to make it a regular 
- further development of an Essential Drug WWW homepage, Gopher, Bulletin Board 
or Essential Drug Database on the Internet. As these can only be accessed by 
those of us with full "online"
Internet access, it might not be a first priority for developing countries, 
though. Examples: try WHO/DAP at  http://www.who.ch/ [still existing at 
http://www.who.int/medicines] or the PHARMWEB at  
http://www.mcc.ac.uk/pharmacy/ [archive still at 
All your suggestions are welcome at:    mailto:wilbertb@*****.nl 

-- END of first E-drug message -------------
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