OCALA, Florida — Medical Bridges is a Houston-based organization that was established in 1997. Dr. Patricia Brock Howard and Dr. Margaret Goetz embarked on a medical trip to El Salvador in the early 1990s. In El Salvador, they became aware of the inadequacies of healthcare facilities in terms of equipment and supplies. The doctors, along with other concerned individuals, then established a recycling program to distribute unused medical equipment and resources to healthcare providers in need. These efforts developed into the establishment of the Medical Bridges organization. Despite the added complication of COVID-19, Medical Bridges continues to help countries in need.
Recycling Medical Supplies
The Medical Bridges organization provides underserved communities with medical supplies through its recycling program. The recycling program allows Medical Bridges to acquire unused medical supplies. Healthcare facilities then receive these medical supplies. Estimates indicate that the U.S. produces $9 billion worth of unused excess medical supplies each year. These unused items are discarded simply because the packaging has been opened. Other medical items may be outdated by U.S. standards and have therefore been replaced by newer technology. Impoverished countries all over the world are in desperate need of these discarded medical resources.
The Aftermath of Hurricane Dorian
Medical Bridges has helped a multitude of nations. In 2019, the organization provided relief to The Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian. The hurricane left 70,000 people on the islands without homes. The hurricane hit the Grand Bahama and Great Abaco particularly hard. The organization assisted in the form of three 40-foot containers full of medical supplies to provide medical relief in The Bahamas.
The Onset of COVID-19
The work of Medical Bridges is more challenging in light of COVID-19. The organization itself serves 88 different countries around the world. Adhering to the customs requirements of each country and ensuring supplies reach a specific destination on time can be challenging. Logistical disruptions due to COVID-19 present another challenge.
Despite facing overwhelming adversity in 2020, Medical Bridges was still able to provide 149 tons of medical equipment to communities in 20 different developing nations. The organization also provided seven 40-foot containers of medical supplies to Pakistan. The organization has also extensively helped Angola. The nation has an infant mortality rate that is four to five times higher than that of the United States. Medical Bridges addressed this problem by providing Angola with medical supplies to help new mothers and their newborns survive their first four weeks. These medical supplies were shipped to Angola in July 2020 but only arrived in mid-November 2020. This delay showcases the difficulties that COVID-19 presents.
The Road Ahead
COVID-19 has strained the healthcare systems of countries all over the world, with developing nations most severely impacted. CEO and president of Medical Bridges, Walter Ulrich, says, “What we want around the world, is when people think about this moment, they also remember how the U.S. helped them and saved lives.” COVID-19 certainly presents a challenge to the work of humanitarian organizations but this support is needed now more than ever. Medical Bridges continues its vital work despite the hurdles of COVID-19.
– Jacob E. Lee