Nine Tons of Medical Supplies Sent to Bolivia
Written by: Betsy Station
After months of planning and weeks of transit, nearly nine tons of medical supplies will soon arrive in Bolivia to equip our surgical programs and partner hospitals. Solidarity Bridge sends a container southward every two years, coordinating closely with our partner, Puente de Solidaridad, to make sure the donated contents fulfill urgent needs.
With an estimated value of over half a million dollars, this summer’s shipment includes valuable equipment such as oximeters, a medical device that monitors oxygen levels in a patient's blood. There are also surgical microscopes, defibrillators, and other equipment too heavy or bulky for missioners to carry in suitcases. We are sending much-needed anesthesia supplies, laryngoscopes, catheters, endotracheal tubes, and a wide variety of syringes, needles, surgical gowns, and drapes. And the container holds new equipment to replace parts of the mobile laparoscopic tower that are wearing out from use, ensuring the continuity of this important surgical outreach program to underserved areas.
Just as valuable as the container’s physical contents are the many partnerships this effort represents. On past trips to Bolivia, Solidarity Bridge missioners have observed needs and procured supplies from their home hospitals in the United States. The generosity of in-kind donors such as Dr. George Lederhaas, a member of our Professional Advisory Board, is also critical. Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach, a medical surplus recovery organization, donated and packed the vast majority of the items from their warehouse in Springfield, Illinois, a monumental contribution. Once the container reaches the Puente de Solidaridad warehouse in Cochabamba, our colleague José Choque and his team will organize and manage the materials.
Why do we focus on equipping? In Bolivia, surgery patients are issued a list of supplies prior to their operation and are expected to go to a pharmacy and purchase anything from mesh to catheters to sutures, and to pay for these items out of their own pockets. This practice means that even at public hospitals, surgery can have an insurmountable up-front cost for low-income patients, who may delay a needed procedure indefinitely because they can’t afford basic items like bandages or an IV tube.
“The main way we are able to lower patient costs is by providing equipment and supplies,” explains Jodi Grahl, director of gynecology, general surgery, and pacemaker programs at Solidarity Bridge. These supplies are available both to patients served directly by our surgical programs and to other low-income patients referred by our Bolivian partner hospitals and doctors. Additionally, Puente de Solidaridad distributes stocks of supplies to public hospitals throughout the country. Through all these channels, patients gain access to donated medical supplies and equipment—making the container not just a vessel, but a vital bridge to life-saving treatment for patients throughout Bolivia.
Betsy Station is a communications volunteer with Solidarity Bridge.