Even as the Census Bureau is reporting that 15.3 percent of Americans are without health insurance, Direct Relief International is expanding its unique program to provide bulk medicines and supplies to safety-net, nonprofit clinics and community health centers that serve nearly 7 million Americans who lack health-care coverage.

“These clinics don’t receive a lot of attention in the debate over health care, yet are a primary source of health care for people who are uninsured, especially those who lose their employer-provided or privately purchased health insurance,” said Thomas Tighe, Direct Relief International’s president and CEO.

Direct Relief, which currently partners with 1,200 of the nation’s 7,000 safety-net clinics, is the only nonprofit organization operating a program to regularly provide, in bulk, basic medicines, supplies and equipment to treat low-income and uninsured patients. The system is designed to run parallel to government and pharmaceutical company patient-assistance programs.

Direct Relief began its domestic aid program in 2004 by providing about $3 million in support to California clinics. By 2007, the program had grown to include 1,200 nonprofit clinics and community health centers serving a total of 17 million people in all 50 states.

The Goleta-based nonprofit organization’s partnerships with some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical and medical supply companies allowed it to deliver $125 million (wholesale) in medicines and supplies in the United States, including 6 million prescriptions, since 2004. These numbers do not include the $47 million in supplies and assistance Direct Relief channeled to 100 health-care partners on the Gulf Coast in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Click here for an interactive map of Direct Relief’s 1,200 partner clinics, or to find a link to the National Association of Community Health Centers, or NACHC. The map was built using the Google Earth mapping service, available to Direct Relief through its partnership with Google, one of hundreds of Direct Relief’s corporate donors, which also include Abbott, BD, BBoehringer Ingelheim, FedEx, Johnson & Johnson, sanofi-aventis and Schering-Plough.

“Direct Relief’s assistance has been invaluable to health centers across the country,” said Malvise A. Scott, the NACHC’s senior vice president for partnership and resource development.

“The donations free up resources, permitting health centers to increase the number of people served and/or the number of services provided,” she said.

“One of the reasons we are proud to partner with Direct Relief International is because it uses cutting-edge technology to efficiently deliver medical aid to the people and places that need it most,” said Kathy Zonca, Schering-Plough’s director of patient access and advocacy.

“By utilizing tools like Google Earth, Direct Relief International is constantly evaluating and identifying populations who can truly benefit from our donations,” she said.

Jim Prosser is press secretary of Direct Relief International.