The degree to which U.S. not-for-profit organizations, health care systems, manufacturers and ISOs help hospitals and clinics in developing countries is incalculable. It has to be assumed that the number of lives saved is just as incalculable, but very significant. These efforts, along with contributions from other countries, is one of the great stories of compassion of our time. Unfortunately, it goes mostly untold in any broad sense.
One of the organizations that is making a difference in this effort is Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach. The Springfield, Illinois-based medical surplus recovery organization “repairs, packages and distributes medical supplies and equipment to hospitals and clinics around the world,” according to its website. The organization secures these supplies from hospitals and clinics in the Midwest.
The organization’s biomedical engineering supervisor is Ratish Kumar, an HTM professional who hails originally from India. Kumar was still a child when he realized that a career in health care was in his future.
“My first excitement about health care blossomed when I saw the ability of a defibrillator to make a human heart function again when it was [used on] one of our relatives when I was 12,” he remembers.
“I always intended to be associated with health care either as a doctor or as an engineer. Biomedical engineering perfectly fits in the middle and acts as a bridge between medicine and engineering, which excited me to take up as my bachelor’s major,” he adds.
Kumar received lots of experience in India since hospitals there tend to keep equipment longer than U.S. hospitals.
“I did my bachelor’s in biomedical engineering in India and moved to the U.S. in 2014 to pursue my master’s in biomedical engineering from the University of Texas at Dallas. After my bachelor’s, I worked in Sri Ramachandra Medical Center, a multi-specialty hospital in Chennai, India for two years as a biomedical engineer, working on life-saving and diagnostic equipment,” Kumar says.
“During my tenure, I was made biomedical in-charge for neonatal ICU, pediatric ICU, urology and emergency and the trauma care departments, where I was responsible for corrective maintenance, preventive maintenance, installation, training and decommission,” Kumar adds.
Traveling to West Africa
When Mission Outreach learned medical equipment and supplies were needed at a hospital in Togo, the organization took steps to help out. Kumar would make the trip after the supplies were sent onboard and install the medical equipment.
“The hospital in Togo is part of a larger community development initiative led by Pastor Kokou Loko. Working with friends from the University of Mississippi-Engineers Without Borders, Rotary International and churches in the Oxford, Mississippi area, Pastor Loko has built a school, a 600-foot water well and a hospital,” Kumar says.
He says that the work continues as plans are in place for a farming cooperative to feed children in the school and the patients in the hospital.
“Joey White, an Ole Miss engineering alumni from Springfield, participated in the building projects. Joey and his family made Mission Outreach aware of the need for medical supplies and equipment and provided generous support to make the container shipments a reality. Altorfer Inc., a Caterpillar dealership in Springfield, even donated an industrial generator to power the hospital. We have sent two containers and have more planned this year,” Kumar says.
It’s a long way from the U.S. Midwest to Togo, a narrow country, sandwiched between Benin and Ghana on Africa’s west coast. Kumar points out that it is much easier to get around in Illinois.
“Illinois and Togo both have a large percent of their land devoted to agriculture. You don’t see the big agri-business in Togo, but many people live in rural areas gleaning their income from farming. Travel is difficult. A 40-mile trip from the airport in Lome required two-hours of travel time over unpaved, and heavily pitted roadways,” Kumar says.
“There was no public transportation or gas stations outside the city. People were selling gasoline in two-gallon bottles along the road. Clean water and improved sanitation is rare outside of the metropolitan area, requiring us to carry water with us at all times. I did not see any restaurant chains in Lome. No restaurants were available in the rural areas. Our hosts made sure that we had good accommodations and good food,” Kumar adds.
Once there, Kumar stayed in the town of Vogan, which was 40 miles from the airport. They traveled by van from the airport to the hotel, which took nearly two-hours.
“I installed a wide range of equipment from [a] vital signs monitor, infant warmers, incubators, ultrasound, phaco emulsifier [to] slit lamps. The hospital in Vogan, Togo was just completed, and I also helped them to plan the deployment of other durable equipment in the ICUs, exam room, outpatient care and surgery room,” Kumar explains.
“Prior to Mission Outreach’s involvement, the hospital had received shipments of old equipment from other organizations. I assessed the functionality of these donations and found that 90 percent were not functional. This highlights the importance of working with an accredited medical surplus recovery organization which will assess each piece of equipment prior to donation. Mission Outreach hopes to donate equipment to replace these inappropriate donations,” he adds.
For Biomeds on a Mission
What advice does Kumar have for other HTM professionals who might want to make a difference by volunteering or working with an organization like Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach?
“Global health offers a challenging and rewarding career for biomeds interested in developing equipment to meet the unique needs of mission medicine. Accredited medical surplus recovery organizations require biomed assessment, so there will be more positions like the one I hold at Mission Outreach,” he says.
“The World Health Organization, USAID and other organizations understand the need and may have opportunities for employment. There are also ample opportunities for biomeds to participate in volunteer work helping medical surplus recovery organizations like Mission Outreach,” he adds.
He points out that the work allows biomeds to contribute to missions, while remaining here in the U.S. Biomeds interested in traveling to provide training and support in the mission field should contact the TriMedx Foundation, Engineers without Borders and Engineering World Health for opportunities.
Kumar has his sights set on visiting Haiti and Damoh, India to help out with his organization’s efforts in both locations.
To learn more about making product donations to Mission Outreach, visit www.mission-outreach.org/product-donations.
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