One man’s trash is another’s lifesaver
This summer, Katrina Bibb, a recent VCU communication arts graduate, will be traveling to Egypt with important cargo: 75,000 respirators for the Egypt’s Children’s Cancer Hospital in Cairo.
Without Bibb and her colleagues, however, usable medical supplies like those respirators could end up in the trash. Every year, American hospitals discard thousands of tons of usable materials — as much as $20 billion, according to one New York Times article.
Bibb is a member of United 2 Heal, a humanitarian aid organization at VCU that collects, sorts and ships surplus medical supplies to countries in need. United 2 Heal has partnered with 3M medical supply company and local hospitals to donate the 75,000 respirators.
The VCU chapter of the organization, which originated at the University of Michigan, was founded in 2011 by VCU students Mohamed Ibrahim, now a senior in biology, and Irfan Mujeednuddin, currently a senior in the marketing department.
Mujeednuddin recalls that in the beginning, the organization had a hard time getting the supplies it wanted to pass along.
“(We were) hitting dead ends all of the time — we’ve heard ‘no’ way more times (than yes),” he said.
Umair Khan, a freshman chemical engineering major, said that United 2 Heal has created lasting partnerships with local contributors since its inception. In the early stages, 10 volunteers from United 2 Heal would go to Uncle Bob’s Self Storage — which allows the group to store their medical supplies free of charge — for 10 hours every week to package and prepare future shipments of medical supplies.
Over the past two years, MCV hospital has donated over $2 million worth of surplus medical supplies to United 2 Heal. Volunteers of United 2 Heal at VCU have packaged, shipped and distributed these medical supplies and equipment to children’s orphanages in Egypt, Sudan, Ghana and Syria, Khan said.
But United 2 Heal’s isn’t just a local group sending supplies out into the world. They are cultivating relationships with organizations around the globe, like the Pan-American Trauma Society and the World Pediatric Project.
Recently, the group signed a contract with the Eastern Region Medical Supply Regulation Board, which regulates medical supplies on the East Coast and agreed to supply the group with all surplus medical supplies on the East Coast.
In addition to sponsoring medical shipping programs, United 2 Heal started the Global Art Initiative to provide a place for artists in developing countries to sell their work. The group says that this empowers the societies to which they send the supplies.
Last semester, United 2 Heal had an art auction in late October — the same weekend that Hurricane Sandy threatened the eastern seaboard. Items sold at the auction included jewelry, paintings by VCU students and art from Ghana. The auction raised about $2,000 to help support United 2 Heal’s Ghana affiliations.