Of Swabs and Syringes: Repackaging and Transporting Medical Supplies to Syria

Thanks to the thoughtfulness of a friend who invited me recently, I had the privilege of assisting a group of wonderful people at the Vancouver General Hospital in packing and organising medical supplies that will be shipped to Syria. These medical supplies (which, in my observation, included syringes, alcohol swabs, IVs, wheelchairs, crutches and all the typical objects that you would expect in a hospital storage) were still perfectly usable. I’m not exactly familiar with the medical procedure of using such supplies but I was briefly informed that they were no longer utilised by the hospital due to their passing of respective expiry dates. (I guess a common analogy to this would be the expiry or sell-by dates of bread and milk – there is an explicit date indicating when you should consume them by but if it looks, smells and feels decent despite their passing of the expiry dates, it’s still safe to consume the foodstuff. However, most hospitals certainly would not take this risk due to legal and medicinal obligations.) Some of them were defected, but most of the equipments/supplies were generally in usable conditions. And part of the volunteers’ effort was to remove the defected ones (along with grouping and organising similar equipments/products) for the sake of of the recipient’s convenience and efficiency.

What really struck me was that the entire process was a grandiose project. I believe that they have amassed a large quantity of supplies and judging from the complexities of the process they underwent, this entire mission was anything but simple. When I think of volunteering/aids/donation, I frequently have this misconception that they do not happen at a level it could or should happen due to the lack of funding (be it monetary or non-monetary) and, to a certain extent, manpower. However, in the case that I have witnessed, the lack of funding or monetary assistance was clearly not the biggest issue. The VGH, along with other hospitals in the city, were clearly more than generous with the supplies that they have contributed. But rather, it was the the act of planning, organising and calling into action that was critical in this mission. I would imagine that the hardest thing about about carrying out this selfless project was the logistics side of it (i.e. How often should you ship the supplies? Where do you go to sort out the stuff? And whatnot.) Further, the thought of tapping into the right people and resources is certainly something that would not happen naturally to most people.

syria-rastan
Source: International Committee of the Red Cross

The people of Syria who are in need of the medical supplies could have similarly acquired or received them if they, somehow, had the appropriate access to a certain amount of funding they needed. However, and although I hate to think counterfactually, they would be missing out on a opportunity of being savvy with global resources (think: financial, material and environmental.) Thus, what I really admired about the efforts of these humble people was their creativity and efficiency in organising this aid for the Syrian people (on top of their dedication, kindness and selflessness.) Although I am no expert on the situation in Syria, I cannot help but think that this opportunity has instilled in me some sense of urgency for the situation in there (and around the region) to improve. When asked about the possibility of this aid session occurring in the near future, the organizer said that he wasn’t sure if there would be enough people in Syria who would need those medical supplies in the time to come.

150522151129-30-syria-timeline-restricted-super-169
Source: CNN

Somehow, I believe that his statement is, unfortunately, true.

More on this charitable effort for Syria:

B.C. man sends aid to war-torn Syria (CBC News, 6 Sept. 2013)

Vancouver residents raise funds, gather relief materials for Syria (The Georgia Straight, 8 Aug. 2012)

 

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