What do an X-ray machine in Oregon and a shower chair in Bellmore, N.Y. have in common? Both are available for free on Med-Eq, a Web site that matches U.S. donors of medical equipment to needy recipients in the U.S and developing world.
Through Med-Eq, prosthetics have gone to amputees in Iraq and Afghanistan. Midwives in Haiti have received ultrasound machines. An ambulance even made its way to Africa in a shipping container, where the vehicle now serves as a mobile medical unit that travels from village to village, treating patients and delivering inoculations.
The site, launched two years ago, is a spin-off of an organization called REMEDY, which since 1991 has recovered U.S. hospital surgical supplies that were prepared but not used during medical procedures. These “exposed” items are considered unusable by the FDA, but are greatly needed in other countries. REMEDY matches each hospital with a charity that will distribute the supplies to health care workers and hospitals around the world.
As REMEDY got more popular, it began to receive larger items that didn't fit its goal of supplementing basic health care needs abroad with simple items like gauze and gloves. Thus, Med-Eq was born.
“We didn't want a specialized piece of equipment to languish on a shelf somewhere when it could save a life a few hundred miles away,” said REMEDY/Med-Eq founder William Rosenblatt, MD, an anesthesiologist at Yale-New Haven Hospital. “So we developed a simple system for when we came upon items that we didn't think we had a good useful outfit for at REMEDY.”
Most of the supplies posted on Med-Eq end up in the developing world, due to FDA guidelines. Others, like hospital gurneys or carts, may go to low-income clinics in the U.S. The site doesn't accept pharmaceuticals.
Unlike REMEDY, where most of the donors are hospitals, Med-Eq's donors range from solo practitioners to medical supply companies and regular people caring for ill relatives.
While there are a couple of other sites that do the same thing as Med-Eq, most don't have much oversight in terms of transactions. Med-Eq verifies that all recipients are 501 (c)(3) charities.
“We don't want a black market, and we don't want an X-ray machine from Iowa to wind up in a landfill in Brazil,” said Tammy Young, executive director of REMEDY and Med-Eq.
It takes less than five minutes to sign up for the site. On average, only two days elapse before a posted item is claimed by a charity. There are anywhere from 10 to 40 items posted a week, with the most common being mammogram, ultrasound and X-ray machines, as this technology tends to be updated quickly, Ms. Young said.
Japhet Aryiku recently got a portable EKG machine for his New York-based Adakum Educational Foundation, which started a medical clinic last year inside a school in Accra, Ghana to serve children and their families.
“With a clinic at the school, we can check on the kids and on the parents when they drop their kids off—advise them and give them medicine, at least,” Mr. Aryiku said.
Mr. Aryiku has also received gloves, syringes, gowns and drapes through REMEDY.
“Gloves might seem like a simple thing in the U.S., but in Africa they are very expensive and hard to come by. Doctors often don't use them, and when they do, they wash them and dry them and use them again,” Mr. Aryiku said. “REMEDY and Med-Eq have been very helpful and good to us.”