By Dhruv Manchala
Health care in Cameroon is atrocious. The average life expectancy is less than 55 years, and country is plagued by diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria. Only 0.9% of GDP is spent on healthcare, well below the World Health Organization’s recommendation of at least 4%. The World Health Organization estimates that for every 5,000 people in the country, there is only one doctor on average. Furthermore, poor wages lead qualified doctors to leave, creating a dearth of capable medical professionals.
On the other hand, the United States has trouble with excess medical equipment. Each year, the US produces 5.9 million tons of medical waste, a large portion of which is usable. Stringent FDA regulations prevent the use of even some unused medical equipment, but such strict rules aren’t enforced in developing countries, enabling the reuse of safe medical equipment.
The Sustainable Healthcare Alliance For Recycling Equipment, or SHARE, is a hybrid social enterprise started by CMC student Mylene (Milly) Fotso to address these imbalances. SHARE aims to connect healthcare organizations around the globe to recycle excess medical equipment to and help train staff at underprivileged hospitals worldwide, starting with Cameroon.
Milly Fotso, a sophomore at CMC and a Cameroonian brought up in the US, experienced firsthand the contrast between healthcare in the US and in Cameroon. While travelling to Cameroon in 2012, Milly researched hospitals and found appalling conditions, with surgical tools being cleaned with toothbrushes and water, and women in labor on the floor because of a lack of beds. She found that various organizations provided individual services in the healthcare sector, but weren’t consolidated into one network. The lack of this connector between these disorganized pieces led her to found SHARE. In her own words:
“I found that several pieces of the puzzle were in place … , but there was no organization linking all of the pieces together. When you look at healthcare, you see that it is a system, and as such, requires a complete puzzle in order to be successful. SHARE is that connector piece.”
Center Jamot, one of the two mental health institutions in the entire country of Cameroon, will be the focus of SHARE’s first efforts. SHARE will work with the hospital staff to understand what specific equipment they lack, provide the equipment, and help train the staff to be more self-sufficient.
A problem that many non-profits, especially those started by college students, face is that they aren’t properly equipped to tackle the problem that they’d like to solve. However, SHARE circumvents this problem by acting as a facilitator for shipping recycled medical equipment and training professionals, instead of providing all the services themselves.
SHARE has already partnered with Project MedShare, an organization that collects and ships medical equipment internationally. This enables SHARE to focus on building relationships with organizations in Cameroon without worrying about the details of procurement and shipping. To train hospitals in Cameroon, SHARE will create a network of sister hospitals in the US and Cameroon to provide the specialized training needed for staff in Cameroon.
In addition, as a hybrid organization, SHARE contains SHARE Scrubs, a for-profit entity to provide a sustainable source of funds for SHARE. SHARE Scrubs seeks to sell medical scrub tops detailed with ethnic fabrics, distinguishing themselves from other scrub brands through both a unique product design and a social mission.
SHARE is well on its way to helping address the imbalance between healthcare in developing and developed nations. SHARE has already raised $25,000, which is enough to send a shipment of medical equipment to Cameroon, and is a strong contender to win this year’s KLI Innovative Start up Award. In the long run, SHARE hopes to expand their network beyond Cameroon to various other countries with poor healthcare infrastructure, such as India. While SHARE has a long way to go in their quest to assist underprivileged hospitals around the globe, they’ve taken the first step forward.