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US Medical Supplies Donated Overseas


Doctors perform a hernia surgery inside the main operating room at the Galkayo Medical Center, a hospital 700 kilometers northwest of Somalia's capital Mogadishu. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya.

Doctors perform a hernia surgery inside the main operating room at the Galkayo Medical Center, a hospital 700 kilometers northwest of Somalia's capital Mogadishu. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya.

Every year, American hospitals and medical centers are left with thousands of kilograms of medical supplies that never get used. Health care workers prepared the supplies for use by doctors when they operate on patients. But doctors found no need for them during the operations.

Unused medical supplies are often thrown away -- but not all of them. An aid group has been collecting such supplies for 25 years, and sending them to hospitals and medical clinics in developing countries. The program is called SHARE, or “Supporting Hospitals Abroad with Resources and Equipment.”

The medical supplies include towels, gloves and trays. They have been removed from boxes in operating rooms but never used. SHARE donates 5,000 kilograms of these reusable surgical supplies from American hospitals every year.

The program is a project of student volunteers at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. They collect the supplies and prepare them for shipping to medical centers in 24 countries.

The students say they are gathering only a small number of the unused materials. They report that 232 teaching hospitals in the United States could possibly give 900 thousand kilograms of opened but unused surgical supplies every year. They say these objects have a value of more than $15 million.

Eric Wan recently finished his studies at the Johns Hopkins medical school. He says SHARE only collects materials that foreign surgical centers request. He says the program does not want to create more waste in other countries.

“So that if they need it and they can use it and they know how to use it, then we can ship it to them. But if they can’t use it or they don’t have the capacity to use it, then we prefer not to send it to them because then it just sits there and becomes something that is just taking (up) space and it’s not used.”

SHARE works with aid groups already operating overseas. These charities include Operation Smile, the Neuro-Spinal Research and Human Development organization, and the Chiapas Project. These groups pay to transport and clean the supplies.

“And sometimes they’re used for emergency surgeries and sometimes they are not used for emergency surgeries. So our goal is that in the end, we save and improve lives.”

Information about SHARE was given to doctors who recently attended a meeting of the Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons in San Francisco. Eric Wan says SHARE hopes to increase the number of U.S. hospitals and medical centers that are giving their unused supplies to SHARE. He notes that, without the program, all of these supplies would be thrown away.

I’m Christopher Cruise.

*VOA correspondent Jessica Berman reported this story from Washington. Christopher Cruise wrote it for VOA Learning English. George Grow edited it.

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Words in this Story

patient – n. a person who receives medical care or treatment

clinic – n. a place where people get medical help

collect – v. to get (things) from different places and bring them together

waste – n. a loss of something valuable that occurs because too much of it is being used or because it is being used in a way that is not necessary or effective

capacity – n. the ability to do something; a mental, emotional, or physical ability

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