Charity cases: Medical services and equipment at rock bottom prices

Charity cases: Medical services and equipment at rock bottom prices

by Diana Bradley, Staff Writer | December 19, 2011
From the December 2011 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

A four-year-old boy lay dying of malaria in a Benin, West Africa-based hospital. Not 40 feet from his room, a supply closet is fully stocked with the antidote. But the hospital has no basic intravenous lines available to administer the drug. In a country where one out of five children die from malaria before the age of 10, this little boy’s story is all too common.

Meanwhile, every day across the U.S., 7,000 tons of reusable or unused medical devices are discarded and sent to landfill.

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Enter Doc2Dock – a Westbury, New York-based Clinton Global Initiative nonprofit that has been collecting and redistributing medical supplies and equipment to underserved countries since 2006. Because of this organization, the Benin boy was supplied with an IV, got his medicine, went home and avoided becoming another sad statistic.

“Our mission is to correct an imbalance,” says Dr. Bruce Charash, Doc2Dock’s founder.

The U.S. is a privileged nation; our Marriott hotels change their furniture every four years because people want new. It’s the same in U.S. hospitals, according to Charash.

“American hospitals get rid of capital medical equipment for cosmetic reasons,” he said. “It can be that equipment is just not up to snuff for what is expected from more or less affluent communities; or that the next technology has come around and we’re prepared to give up the old machine for a new one.”

Doc2Dock collects capital equipment and consumable supplies. Ultrasound equipment is the most desirable, along with delivery tables and autoclaves. Although it costs $25,000 on average to pack and deliver containers to Africa, the wholesale value of the supplies Doc2Dock sends is $500,000.

“I’ve been in hospitals where surgical gloves are washed, hung and reused; in the Congo, they work with blood-covered operating instruments,” said Charash. “Beds are equally as important – in Africa, one out of four people sleep on the floor because there aren’t enough beds available in hospitals.”

The organization regularly collects these supplies through operating room recycling bins. Charash noted that most surgical procedures involve a pre-assembled kit, overstocked by 30 percent or more in case the surgery runs longer than expected. When finished, every item must be discarded, even though each item is individually wrapped and sterile.

“A lot of the surgical stuff nowadays is pre-packaged,” said Theresa Suits, executive director of Project C.U.R.E.’s (Commission on Urgent Relief and Equipment) New York wing – an organization with 15,000 volunteers and 11 collection centers throughout the United States, donating medical equipment to more than 120 countries since 1987. “Anything like that is considered excess; it can’t be reused in the U.S.”

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