It is time to focus on the “Who” vs. the “What” in the medical donation model

If one-third of donated medical equipment is not being utilized or is inoperable, perhaps its time to focus on the “who” vs. the “what” on medical donation model.

Last week, ReaMedica founder and VisionLink consultant Michael Seo and myself presented at the Fulbright Association’s 38th Annual Conference, Creating Pathways to Peace: Global Health & Education, in Atlanta. We were honored to participate because the conference only accepts presenters who are past Fulbright scholarship recipients and as we are not, they made an exception in including us in the program. It was also an honor to be part of a program that included 2014 Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, Louis Sullivan, MD, former secretary of Health and Human Services and other dynamic thought leaders. We were also honored to have our work shared with the Fulbright Alumni community who, through Fulbright programs and individually, are creating and implementing global health initiatives around the world. Here is brief conversation describing our work and the presentation.

Michael: In developing countries surplus medical equipment donations are playing an ever-larger role in health systems strengthening. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in some developing countries up to 80% of all the medical equipment in the health system has been donated or financed externally. Yet somewhat counter intuitively they also report that up to 70% of the equipment is not operable due to disrepair or inappropriate equipment being donated. On a macro level it is indisputable that the MSRO model needs to be improved.

Lori: The scale of inappropriate donations is discouraging, yet it is also clear that donations benefit millions of people around the world. Lives are improved and saved when in-country and visiting healthcare workers are equipped with the materials they need to diagnose and treat patients. Our presentation had two goals, to share the MedSurplus Alliance model for improving donation outcomes for patients by through standards, accountability, collaboration, capacity building and education. I shared the new MedSurplus Alliance website and encouraged the participants to check out the Code of Conduct and Toolkit.

Lori Fullbright Picture

It was exciting to have two of the session participants ask for help with current projects!

(Pictured: Lori Warrens)

The second goal was to share a for improving medical equipment donations that Michael developed as part of his Masters studies at McGill University. Michael studied the potential impact of introducing and analyzing the possible contributions of a different set of beneficiaries (recipients of a medical equipment donation) such as Social Enterprises and Health Entrepreneur Businesses.

To help accomplish this, Michael has developed a Beneficiary Profile-Institutional Change Map that he shared with the participants.

Michael: The map was developed specifically in the context of medical equipment surplus repurposing better known ad donations and does not include pharmaceuticals. Much of the medical equipment recovery dialogue focus on what: what do we have, what do they want and what should we send. It’s a donor bias. In a system where estimates calculate one-third of equipment not being utilized or inoperable perhaps the question should focus on “who”. Focusing on “who” is not discarding “what” rather it is a different point of analysis. We are still asking the same questions of why so much donated medical equipment is unused or unusable, but if we are seeking radical improvement it is unlikely to occur when the actors an behaviors remain constant.

I believe that introducing a new set of actors such as Social Entrepreneurs and Health Entrepreneur Businesses will accelerate the improvement of efforts and require the development of new skills sets and a rethinking across the medical equipment donations sector. The Beneficiary Profile-Institutional Change Map diagrams this hypothesis.

Lori: The MedSurplus Alliance will host a stakeholder webinar to review the map and discuss how the Alliance can help test the hypothesis and incorporate what we learn in to our work.

To sign up for the webinar or for more information about the presentation, please email us a