Wednesday, August 31, 2005

MEDWORLD : Twice Blest

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a Medical College, and that Medical College has a hospital, and that hospital has one dynamic medical supplies donation program called MEDWorld.

MEDWorld is a non-profit volunteer organization created by UNC physicians, medical students and hospital staff and was designed to collect and recycle unused medical supplies that would otherwise be discarded. The founders were "looking for an opportunity to do community service on a global scale while improving staff morale and reducing hospital waste." The materials that are collected are sent to developing nations where they are a great benefit to those clinics and hospitals serving the poor.

MEDWorld's program is earth friendly, as it is an environmentally responsible alternative for hospitals to re-use disposable recyclable material in order to bring health services to those who desperately need it.

The materials "rescued" by MEDWorld are still valuable, even though they may not be used in the United States because of regulatory requirements; procedural excess or technological changes to which the materials do not conform. And because those materials are put to use where they are needed, the program has a dual benefit, both to the donor and to the recipient. (If I may digress, that reminds me of what Shakespeare said about the quality of mercy being "twice blest." - "It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.")

Anyway, leaving Shakespeare behind, the Co-Founder and Director of MEDWorld, Georgine Lamvu, MD states on their web site:

"Every year UNC hospitals throw away thousands of dollars worth of medical equipment and supplies in order to keep up with the changing technology and the highest standard of medical care which we are privileged to have in the United States. Meanwhile, in many impoverished countries people are dying due to the lack of basic medical supplies, some of which we routinely throw away. In keeping up with the UNC tradition of providing the best medical care, we created MEDWorld as a means of extending this care to people who desperately need it in many areas of the world. MEDWorld is a program that was designed to help people in need and to help us pay attention to and improve the way we practice medicine."

The most common items collected by the organization are gloves, gauze and wound supplies, syringes, foleys and foley bags, sutures, and hygienic supplies. But the list of collected materials is very long and contains everything from Airway masks to Delivery kits to Toys, Vacuum pumps and Wheelchairs

The donated materials are collected by nurses and other hospital staff who identify reusable disposed material and place it in MEDWorld collection bins located throughout the hospital. Only those re-usable items that have been opened but NOT used or have been contaminated by reasons other than patient contact are acceptable for collection. The hospital volunteers are trained, according to the hospitals' guidelines, to identify what can be recovered and what should be discarded.

Once the material has been collected it is the hospital it is then taken to the MEDWorld warehouse, sorted, inventoried and packaged in boxes. Each box of material is labeled with the MEDWorld disclaimer and the address of the receiving charity. These boxes are then donated to the recipient charities who must pay for all shipping and transportation costs.

The recipient charity or individual must focus on global health through any one of several types of non-profit activities. They must also make assurances that the donated material is used for care of appropriate populations and not used for sale and that the supplies have been adequately sterilized prior to their use. Also, the recipient must provide feedback on the use of the supplies through photographs or written documentation.

MEDWorld also sends supplies abroad through various other methods.

They send materials with resident physicians and medical students traveling to developing countries to provide medical care to the poor.

They provide material to Global Links, which is a non-profit organization based in Pittsburgh, PA, that specializes in collecting recycled surplus medical equipment from over 50 hospitals throughout the United States and sends it health care organizations servicing the needy in over 40 countries, including the United States.

They also furnish material to Operation Renewed Hope -a program directed by Pastor Jan Milton in conjunction with the United States Airforce and which sends these materials to over 30 countries around the world.

The organization relies heavily on volunteers. These volunteers are required to commit to 5-10hrs/month for a year's time. Once in the program, the volunteers undergo training in MEDWorld's operational procedures. This training includes methods of collection and warehouse operations. They must also complete UNC Hospital's volunteer training program in Universal Precautions Training. In return for their assistance, volunteers get to shadow hospital physicians in clinical care or research and possibly to participate in overseas medical missions. This is a great experience for an aspiring physician, nurse or other health care professional.

MEDWorld also relies on the support of locally and nationally know individuals such as Dean Smith, the Men's Basketball Coach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1961-1997 (Basketball is a pretty big thing in North Carolina and throughout the US); and Elaine Marshall, the Secretary of State for the State of North Carolina.

Community organizations lend a hand as well, and some of them are pretty big hands, such as Wal-Mart, the Duke University Gleaning Program at Duke University Hospital, Old Dominion (shipping company) and Yellow Freight (shipping company).

Needless to say that MEDWorld is supported by the UNC Health Care system and operates out of UNC Hospitals. There are also UNC institutional supporters, such as: UNC Central Distribution, UNC Sterile Processing, the UNC Staff Council and the UNC Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

MEDWorld often brings home the idea that we waste while others want. Its web site quotes the non-profit organization Global Links in making its appeal for support in its efforts by posting on its web site:
"For people in developing countries, basic medical supplies are luxuries that are simply not available or not affordable. Doctors and nurses must constantly make do - washing and reusing "disposable" gloves and syringes, or substituting inappropriate materials such as fishing line or sewing thread for suture- or patients must go without needed care. In many countries patients must bring their own supplies, even acquire their own medicines, before treatment can be given."

And then MEDWorld adds its own observation that: "On the other extreme, American hospitals such as ours, discard tons of unused medical supplies in the interest of optimal surgical management and protection from litigation."

MEDWorld donates equipment to clinics and hospitals in need throughout the world, regardless of religious or political beliefs and affiliations. It states that it provides equipment to individual physicians, medical students and hospital staff who are planning to dedicate their time to provide healthcare to people in under-served areas, as long as they have the ability to re-sterilize supplies that need to be sterile.

And in addition to its primary mission MEDWorld provides UNC hospitals with updates on the amount of hospital waste and ways of decreasing cost of disposal, thereby giving the hospital another effective management tool. Also, MEDWorld returns hospital items that have been wrongfully disposed, increasing the cost effectiveness of the hospital's operations.

MEDWorld has provided materials to almost twenty countries in the developing world and twelve of those countries are in Africa or the Caribbean.

Well, I can see by the clock on the wall that my time is up, and so is my word count; so I must close here after giving THREE CHEERS to MEDWorld. But you can continue to learn about MEDWorld, and those fabulous UNC physicians and other health care professionals at Chapel Hill by going to the following link.

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