Local Organization Ships Medical Equipment to Africa

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Hands of Hope Northwest volunteers and staff members are packing a shipping container full of medical supplies to combat the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. - COURTESY OF DEBBIE WHEELER
  • Courtesy of Debbie Wheeler
  • Hands of Hope Northwest volunteers and staff members are packing a shipping container full of medical supplies to combat the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.

Debbie Wheeler, executive director of Hands of Hope Northwest in Nampa, got an urgent email from Dr. Daniel Sesay earlier this week, reporting the loss of three staff members and family of other staff members to the Ebola virus. The medical doctor from Sierra Leone, also a member of parliament in the west African country, said the economy is devastated and the country in shambles. The email said, "Send supplies as soon as you can. We need everything." 

So this morning, Wheeler and her staff worked to fill a 40-foot-long shipping container with hospital beds and equipment, gowns, masks, gloves and other protective gear for medical care workers in the country. They're sending $192,000 worth of medical supplies to help combat the Ebola outbreak.

Hands of Hope Northwest is a non-profit that started in 1996 when a woman noticed how much stuff hospitals were throwing away. She asked if she could take the items to her church for donation. The first container of medical gear was sent to Papua New Guinea almost two decades ago. 
Now, the organization sends off a shipping container almost once a month. This year, they've sent seven containers packed as full as possible to places like Central America, the former Soviet Union, and the Far East. It adds up to $3 million in medical equipment and supplies per year.

Wheeler said the supplies are donated from area hospitals, medical suppliers like Norco and individuals. 

"Sometimes families come in because grandma died and they don't need the wheelchair anymore," Wheeler said. "We keep a lot of things out of the landfills and a lot of times, people say, 'I was about to take this to the dump,' but they took it here instead and they say, 'Can you use it?' It's perfectly good stuff."

Wheeler said the way our country is, we like to replace medical equipment every five years, not because anything is wrong with it, but because there's a newer, better model out.

"Other countries, they don't care if it's five years old," she said. "They've never had one."
COURTESY OF DEBBIE WHEELER
  • Courtesy of Debbie Wheeler


She said there's never an in-between from outbreak to outbreak. Medical supplies are needed around the world all the time. Most recently, Hands of Hope sent a shipment to the Philippines after last year's typhoon wiped out a birthing center. But paying for the equipment to get there can be tricky. 

"From Nampa to Sierra Leone costs $7,500," Wheeler said. The tab was picked up by International Relief and Development, a non-profit based in Virginia. Hands of Hope raised another $3,000 to have the medical equipment transported within Sierra Leone. The shipment will travel on a truck from Nampa to Seattle, and then by boat to Africa.

The supplies won't be received until December, but Wheeler is already working towards gathering more equipment and sending a few more shipments to Africa this year.