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
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:
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
PS Below the first email that started E-drug 25 years ago!
----- Copy of the very first E-drug message of 3 February 1995 ---------
E-drug, issue number 1, 3 February 1995
To: all involved in essential drugs and accessible by email
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 -------------