|A program of the Medical Amateur Radio Council (MARCO)
MARCO was started in 1965 to promote goodwill and fellowship among amateur radio operators worldwide who are professionals in the healing arts, or who have an interest in the medical, dental, or allied health fields.
On-the-air network operation is an integral part of MARCO activity, conducted for the purpose of exchanging medical and technical information, and for members to be of service to the public by assisting during medical emergencies. These general goals have expanded over the past 30 years to encourage MARCO members' participation in volunteer programs offering medical assistance, counsel, surplus medical equipment, and volunteer services to MARCO's MediShare International Program.
One Sunday morning, May 12, 1989, Dr. Robert C. Smithwick (Amateur Radio, W6CS, formerly W6JZU) was reading the paper and casually listening to a two-way radio conversation between amateur radio operators Mr. Ken Kirk-Bayley, GJOKKB, on the Isle of Jersey (the Channel Islands) and Mr. Kirby Palmer, 9X5KP, in Rwanda. Dr. Smithwick, in California, broke into a conversation that would eventually touch many people around the world.
Kirby Palmer, Amateur Radio 9X5KP, explained to his new friends, Ken and "Smitty", that he was on the staff of a small jungle hospital in the interior of Rwanda, in East Africa. He further explained that the only sterilizer in the hospital, a small desk-top unit, had burned out its gasket and that the staff had no way to sterilize instruments for surgery and had to resort to boiling water. Kirby had no more materials on hand to repair the unit, which he had repaired many times over the years. Mr. Kirk-Bayley in Europe and Dr. Smithwick immediately set about trying to find a usable gasket or a replacement sterilizer. The sterilizer was a World War II surplus unit and the manufacturer had gone out of business many years before.
Dr. Smithwick's association with MARCO, the Medical Amateur Radio Council, led him to conclude that a replacement sterilizer or gasket might be found from among the several hundred MARCO members. Fortuitously, a few days later, a Chicago area 'ham' (William Stange, W9DDP) which Ken contacted found an exact replacement gasket in its original sealed plastic bag at a hospital in Hinsdale, IL.
|Mugenero Hospital Outpatient Clinic||
In a follow-up conversation with Kirby a few days later, they were able to tell him that the new gasket was on its way by air. In a few days the little Mugenero Hospital in Rwanda had its sterilizer back in service. As a follow-up, upon hearing this story, MARCO members spontaneously offered other surplus sterilizers, which were then made available to the little hospital.
Based on this experience, and the realization that many MARCO members probably had from time to time, considerable surplus medical equipment, instruments, and perhaps even drugs and supplies, "Smitty" Smithwick drafted a proposal which was eventually recommended to the MARCO board by late MARCO President Dr. Ed Ludin, K2UK, and the Medical Resources Commission was established by the MARCO Board of Directors in 1990. Over the following months, the MRC developed a voluntary, member-driven program making it possible for members to offer surplus and outdated medical equipment for placement in Third World hospitals and clinics where medical equipment of nearly all kinds remained a luxury that few could afford.
This was the birth of MARCO's MediShare International, as it is now known in the U.S. and around the world, and the Bush Hospital Foundation (now a partner of MediShare International) in Europe, founded by Ken Kirk-Bayley, GJOKKB, following the successful Rwanda hospital project. Equipment was soon offered, necessitating certain principals and guidelines to be developed.
The new committee determined that:
1. Equipment must be repaired and/or refurbished
to meet all factory specifications.
2. Spare parts must be available.
3. Electrical and electronic equipment must be converted to meet specifications required by a given country before it was shipped to that country.
4. Someone at the destination hospital must request the equipment and be familiar with its use and operation.
5.In most cases, deserving recipient facilities would not be charged for the equipment.
(modest charges may be applied, case-by-case, to offset transportation costs)
|Several months were spent addressing these concerns. MediShare had neither the facilities, expertise, nor resources to test, repair and refurbish equipment, nor the desire to acquire such facilities or expertise. Furthermore, MARCO didn't have a "client" base of hospitals and clinics seeking equipment donations.|
The committee's research discovered several non-profit, humanitarian agencies across the U.S. that have long-established, successful programs for providing medical supplies and equipment to qualified recipient medical facilities. These organizations also have trained medical technicians and laboratories, shops, and facilities for the repair and testing of donated equipment.
ADRA (Adventist Relief Agency) and REAP (Radiological Equipment Assistance Program) were two of the original, most active agencies involved in the acquisition and distribution of relief supplies to areas of disaster and famine. The agencies, at the time, had extensive contacts in over 120 countries. Both organizations were anxious to assist MARCO with its developingMediShare program. The most fascinating coincidence in this union between MediShare and REAP is that REAP was founded in 1973 by Jim Sharpe, a now-retired radiological technologist and an avid amateur radio operator, W6LNF!
Additional partnerships are now in place across the U.S. : International Aid in Michigan (of which REAP is now a part), Direct Relief International and Mexican Medical Ministries, in Califomia, and CHOSEN Mission Project in Pennsylvania. All of these agencies are non-profit. All of them have many years of experience in the acquisition, refurbishing and distribution of medical, dental and hospital equipment in nearly all the Third World countries as well as needy institutions in the U.S. The Ludin Memorial Fund, which supports the MediShare program, receives contributions from MARCO members, friends and unsolicited donations from other sources to provide the financial support for MediShare, International.
This describes briefly, the concept upon which Part A (Medical Equipment Placement) is based.
(For agencies that may not have a web site as yet, appropriate telephone numbers are provided.)
Note: MediShare International Part B Partners is concerned with providing opportunities for short-term service to medical and dental professionals in clinics in developing countries.
Also of interest will be an article titled "MediShare International", in the
amateur radio magazine, QST, February 1997, pages 41-43.