UAF students collect med supplies for overseas clinics
By Jeremia Schrock
Sun Star Contributor
The Fairbanks chapter of a medical supply clearing house organized ten years ago in Anchorage is being revived by a group of UAF pre-med students to collect and transport medical supplies to clinics in need throughout the world. Early response to the effort has been so good that the students now wonder who will carry on with the project once they’ve left to continue their education.
According to Alaska Medical Missions (AMM), each year more than $200 million worth of usable medical items are either incinerated or thrown away. Since 1999, AMM has collected, sorted and transported more than 800 shipments of these supplies to clinics in 75 countries around the world. By 2009 the Fairbanks chapter of the organization had languished. Last semester, however, several UAF students decided that AMM was too important of an organization to let fade, and decided to resurrect it.
Liz Tsigonis, president of UAF’s Pre-Medical Society, has been the primary mover and shaker of the effort. Working closely with Howard Lin, who maintains the society’s Facebook page, Tsigonis and the Pre-Med Society have given new life to an old cause.
The group has been collecting unused medical materials from local hospitals and clinics (primarily Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and the Tanana Valley Clinic) and distributing them to other clinics and hospitals in developing nations of the world. AMM is currently collecting and sorting supplies to send to Indonesia, Mexico, Ghana, Malawi, and the Philippines.
But just how do the supplies get from our clinics to theirs? Nick Bajada, the public relations officer of the Pre-Med Society, said it’s all about networking with local medical establishments. “We have created a relationship with Fairbanks Memorial Hospital so that certain members [of AMM] can go to FMH’s receiving department and go through their bins of discard,” he said. After the supplies are picked up, they are sorted and stored on campus. After that, getting the goods out of the country is a game of chance.
“We do not ship supplies since it is so expensive,” said Tsigonis. “The only way supplies can get somewhere through us is if someone is traveling to a country and takes a box along with them.”
So far, for Tsigonis and AMM, luck has been on their side. Within the first two days of collecting medical supplies, they had already sent a shipment off with a group headed to the Philippines. “A few hours after getting a second load of supplies I already had three other groups to send supplies to,” Tsigonis said.
Bajada said he believes the value of the AMM lies in its ability to bring “medical supplies to nations in need that otherwise do not have access to the crucial supplies that allows them to perform basic procedures.”
Kathryn Cessnun, who spent four months interning at a rural health clinic in Ghana, added that the project also provides a suitable outlet for those “… who are passionate about the human right to adequate health care.”
The group’s early success, however, may falter if the bulk of the work continues to be done by students alone. “We are in need of community members who will be willing to oversee this organization,” said Tsigonis. She said that most pre-medical students’ career goals demand that they continue their education outside of Alaska.
Tsigonis said that there are many ways to become involved with AMM. The organization is always looking for individuals to help transport and sort supplies and especially for “anyone [who] knows of clinics that can donate supplies or anyone traveling to another country,” she said.
For more information on the mission of the AMM, please contact Liz Tsigonis at email@example.com, or visit the Pre-Medical Society’s Facebook page.