UCSF Sustainability Stories

Aria Yow, Guest Writer, November 2019

MedShare: Closing a Global Health Loop

According to the World Health Organization, over 10 million children under the age of five in the developing world die from inadequate medical care every year. At the same time, medical facilities in the United States generate over two million tons of medical surplus each year. Health Care Without Harm notes that much of that medical surplus consists of valuable unused, unexpired medical supplies and equipment.

MedShare, a U.S. humanitarian aid organization, is working to build healthy communities and strengthen health systems around the world by getting these unused medical supplies to the people who don’t have adequate medical care. Since its first delivery to Costa Rica in 1998, MedShare has been repurposing and delivering these vital supplies to healthcare organizations and medical professionals, including UCSF, that serve populations in need. The medical equipment and supplies come from hospitals and facilities that would otherwise direct them to the landfill, though they are still usable. MedShare also provides biomedical equipment training and services to these healthcare organizations and medical professionals with underserved populations. To date, MedShare has diverted 14 million pounds of medical supplies from the landfill and delivered $220 million worth of life-saving supplies and equipment to 105 countries.

Since 2009, California State, Charity Navigator, and other authorities have recognized MedShare’s services. Charity Navigator even named MedShare the “Top Charity Providing Humanitarian Relief Supplies.”

Last month, I had the opportunity to be among the 20,000 volunteers MedShare relies on to sort and package the medical products it processes each year. According to the MedShare Website, to-date 6,000 tons of medical supplies worth over $200 million have been diverted from the landfill and reprocessed by MedShare. On October 12, approximately 30 volunteers turned out to help improve global health by sorting and packaging medical supplies at the MedShare distribution center in San Leandro. The volunteers (which included a 10-year-old friend of mine and many other students) spent three hours sorting, folding, weighing, and packaging bed linens for delivery to organizations that MedShare partners with, both locally and globally.

The linens we prepared came from the decommissioned 400 hospital beds of a major San Francisco medical center that recently closed—and now would be a huge resource for other centers in need. The work was so enjoyable my young friend commented, “I had no idea we were working for three hours. It felt so short!” Over all it was an inspiring day, made even more so because of the national flags that were displayed on the walls around us and a world map that showed the numbers of 40’ container shipments provided to each country, including many in Africa and Asia—a reminder of the important work across the globe we were supporting.

MedShare’s work not only focuses on increasing the healthcare capacity of its partners but also includes primary care, maternal-child health, and disaster relief programs. It fills a vital gap in global health care by doing all of this while also promoting sustainability. By simultaneously serving under-resourced medical communities by addressing their needs and helping well-resourced facilities divert waste and donate valuable supplies, MedShare creates a closed loop system within global health.

For over five years, UCSF has partnered with MedShare and in FY19, UCSF Health donated 14,400 pounds of medical supplies and equipment to be repurposed at clinics/hospitals in need worldwide. This is a 44 percent increase from the 8,066 pounds donated in FY18. In addition, to-date, 1,068 pounds of supplies have been re-distributed from MedShare back to UCSF staff and students for use in medical-service trips around the world. Part of the UCSF-MedShare agreement allows UCSF’s students to select the specific medical supplies needed by the clinics/hospitals visited on their service trips.

Call to Action

  • Volunteer: To volunteer, simply choose a volunteer session that works for your schedule.
  • Take Supplies on a Medical Mission Trip: Learn more about taking medical supplies on your next medical mission trip.

Photo source: Shana Hassol, Volunteer Program Manager, MedShare. Photo is of Kathy Lynn Ho (far right), a Registered Nurse with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital and longtime regular MedShare volunteer and other UCSF colleagues.

World Health Organization
Health Care Without Harm