Friday, September 09, 2005

GLOBAL LINKS: Sharing Surplus. Saving Lives.

Global Links says that people around the world are literally dying for lack of even the most basic medical supplies, and at the same time, every year U.S. hospitals throw away an estimated 2,000 tons of unused surgical supplies worth over $200 million.

The Bazaar has written previously about organizations that provide retired medical supplies to health care facilities in developing nations, and hopefully I will be able to report on many more. MedWorld and MedShare are two that I have written about in the past. And now I want to add Global Links to that list.

In the previous articles I have stated that still useful medical material often ends up being dumped into landfills or incinerated. This is not only a terrible waste of much need supplies but it also adds to the burden on the environment and drives up the cost of healthcare in the United States.

Global Links, like MedWorld and MedShare, is a not-for-profit organization that recovers surplus medical materials from U.S. hospitals and makes it available to hospitals that serve the poorest members of society in less developed countries.

On its site, Global Links states: "Because poorly planned donations can be worse than no aid at all, each donation is carefully tailored to meet the needs of the recipient institution." This organization also relies heavily on volunteers help to accomplish its mission. And because of this heavy reliance on volunteers, Global Links spends less than 3% of its revenues on overhead costs. A highly efficient organization, Global Links even uses a nonprofit service (Local Independent Charities of America) to process their credit card transactions so as to greatly reduce its administrative cost by hot having to handle credit card transactions themselves. (I will talk about Local Independent Charities of America (LIC) another day in another article.)

In its Mission Statement Global Link says that it is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving healthcare in developing countries through a pioneering approach to recovering and processing surplus medical supplies and equipment for use by targeted healthcare institutions. To this end, they recover unused medical supplies as well as equipment and furnishings from U.S. hospitals for distribution to hospitals and clinics that serve the poorest segments of the population in developing countries.

Global Links takes great pride in being responsive to the needs of the recipients of their donated material. They say that their volunteers and staff "spend hours sorting and processing donated materials to meet recipients' needs."

After the materials are sorted and the furnishings cleaned and repaired they are then made available to recipient hospitals through three programs:

- The Suture Donation Program provides recipient hospitals around the world an annual allotment of suture, which is a critical medical supply that is in short supply in hospitals in the developing world.

- The Established Country Programs strive to develop on-going relationships with targeted healthcare facilities in specific countries. These contries are considered "established countries" and their recipient institutions receive specially tailored shipments of medical aid sent in 40-foot sea containers. These programs make a sustained impact on the capacity of recipient institutions to deliver quality healthcare to their patients.

- Special Projects (in limited numbers) are undertaken by Global Links each year. This may consist of a one-time donation of medical aid to targeted institutions in need of support. This aid is usually enough to be sent in 40-foot sea containers.

Global Links was started by three women with a vision in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania in 1989. These women (Emily Solomon, Kathleen Hower, and Brenda Smith), were friends and colleagues and came together to form Global Links in order to address their concern about the desperate need for basic medical supplies and equipment in developing countries. They began collecting medical material in their own homes and recruited individuals to carry the donations overseas. Since then Global Links has grown considerably and maintains an offices and a separate 20,000 square foot warehouse.

At first, the founders solicited donations of medical materials mainly from manufactures; but as time went on they developed a system to recover unused medical supplies that U.S. hospitals could not use for a variety of reasons, such as changes in technology or vendors, and liability concerns. This method of collection filled an unmet need in the healthcare system. Global Links now recovers over 18 tons of medical supplies annually. Supplies that otherwise would have ended up in landfills.

After experimenting with various strategies of giving, the organization came to realize that it was best to establish long-term relationships with hospitals and clinics in developing countries. By doing this, they can best help to develop a foundation of medical aid and thus serve the needs of the local populations. They also decided to focus its shipments of medical material aid to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Global Links currently has relationships with recipient institutions in Bolivia, Jamaica, Haiti, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Nicaragua, and Cuba. But since it was founded in 1989, the organization has provided over $110 million worth of materials to more than 70 countries.

In each country where it has an ongoing program, Global Links partners closely with the local office of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Ministry of Health to select recipient institutions. It then works with the various hospital staffs to assess their most critical needs. After a shipment of aid is delivered, the staff of the recipient institution is asked to evaluate the quality of material they have received and the impact that the aid has had on their institution.

The Suture Donation Program was organized in 1989, and in 1990 Global Links sent 10,240 sutures to 14 hospitals in Africa, Asia and South America. In 2004, 100,000 sutures were shipped to 62 hospitals around the globe. Operating room nurses all over the United States mail sutures to Global Links. And the sutures also arrive in the Global Links office along with other donations of medical equipment. Once they are checked and sorted by volunteers, visiting doctors or missionaries then deliver them to their destination; or they are shipped in containers with other medical aid. On occasion, the sutures are mailed to their destinations.

One of the countries in which Global Links maintains an established relationship is Jamaica. The Jamaica Medical Material Aid Program has been in operation since 1990. And Global Links has worked in partnership with the local office of the PAHO and the Jamaica Medical Assistance Committee to improve public sector hospitals' and health centers' delivery of healthcare throughout the island.

A total of 26 shipments of hospital furnishings, supplies, equipment, and medicine valuing over $3 million have been sent to Jamaica for use in its public healthcare system. Since 1990 over 250 hospital beds and 900 mattresses have been sent to the island as well. In addition, other materials such as wheelchairs, infant incubators, pediatric cribs, and EKGs have be sent to recipient public healthcare facilities.

I would love to tell you more about Global Links and its many projects, but then that would defeat my purpose of trying to get you to visit its web site. Learn more about this great organization by going to the following link.

Global Links

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