(photo)- Medical staff at the Ateneo de Zamboanga University School of Medicine unloading supplies provided through a cooperative effort of HELP
, Kingtsbridge International
and US PACOM
Payson, Arizona. January 6, 2009: After months of preparation and transport delays, Payson-based H.E.L.P.
has delivered over a quarter million dollars in medical supplies and equipment to rural clinics on the island of Mindanao in the Southern Philippines. The effort which began last Spring will address the senseless loss of life and suffering in these clinics due to the lack of basic medical supplies.
In February and March of 2008, HELP's Randy Roberson performed humanitarian needs assessments in numerous locations on the disease and conflict riddled island of Mindanao. Having headed similar efforts in numerous other developing countries, the lack of even the most basic medical resources were nothing new. "Even though you see this level of suffering and lack of resources in many parts of the world, the numerous challenges in the rural Philippines can break even the most calloused heart," Roberson said. "When you see a motorcycle victim brought into an ER that has dogs sleeping on the floor and you see that they don't even have any local anesthesia and as a result have to pin him down while they stitch him, it brings to mind how tough life is in many parts of the world," he added. The sounds of the patient screaming in pain filled the halls until he finally passed out. Looking on and helping hold him were his family, including a young daughter whose face told a confused story of terror.
Shortly after returning home to Arizona, Roberson received a desperate "Cry for Help" from Dr. Felicita Sampul who operates one of the clinics he had visited. The email told of a young 14 month old boy named Myco who was brought to the clinic by his mother. As a result of severe malnutrition (a common problem in rural Philippines) he quickly caught the eye of the doctor. "I was stunned to see a little boy who looked like a 75 year old man, weak and in respiratory distress," Sampul said.
Supplies such as oxygen, a nebulizer or even a pediatric ambu bag were needed to help keep the child breathing. Unfortunately the clinic had none of these.
While trying to get the child to a larger hospital, little Myco died. The final words of Dr Sampul’s letter cut like a knife for the people at HELP. "If only we have the materials and equipment necessary for emergency management we might have saved him. We hope that somebody out there will hear this cry…so that no more little MYCO gone.”
Roberson quickly contacted close friend Ed Artis of Knightsbridge International
in Manila. Artis has a significant 30 year history of delivering medical equipment and supplies into the Philippines and in many of the toughest locations around the world. "These guys are like the Marines of the humanitarian world." "That's why I like Ed and enjoy working with him," Roberson said. "They run in when everyone else is running out," he added.
When contacted, Artis stated he had a 40' cargo container filled with over $250,000 in donated medical equipment and supplies. Artis explained a donor had promised to pay for the shipping from the states, but later backed out. As Knightsbridge had already received the shipment, this left them with a $13,000 debt they needed to find a way to reimburse.
"When Ed emailed me the shipping list I almost fell off my chair because it included numerous oxygen tanks, nebulizers, infant and adult ambu bags and tons of other things which these clinics desperately needed," Roberson said. "It was almost exactly what we needed!"
As a small Payson non-profit who has admittedly struggled to survive the past year, the challenge then was where to find the $13,000 to pay Knightsbridge and receive $250,000 in medical supplies in exchange.
Roberson quickly posted copies of the letter to their web site at www.disasterlogistics.org. "We currently have about 1200 people around the world subscribed to our site and I try to keep them updated on our efforts via email," Roberson said. It paid off. A foundation in Virginia stepped forward with the funds, 100% of which were quickly wired off to Knightsbridge in Manila in hopes of having a September delivery to the rural clinics.
Then the effort hit its next challenge. "The original shipping cost quote was $10,500 to cover the cost of the shipment from Illinois to Manila. The remaining $2,500 was for transport from the northern island of Luzon (Manila) to the southern island of Mindano," Roberson said. "Unfortunately integrity seems a rare commodity at times in the Philippines and the shipper suddenly demanded another $8,000.
"This is where the effort became really frustrating," Roberson said. "I've never lost a shipment and I have never paid a bribe or allowed myself to be part of a shake-down."
This is where the story takes an interesting turn. "Although the whole thing had me beside myself inventing new words, none of which were nice, I decided to relax and continue to get the word out in our network and see who might be able to help," Roberson said. Enter the United States Military.
Over the past decade, HELP has enjoyed a unique relationship with multiple branches of the US military stationed in various countries. HELP has also benefitted from significant DOD and other governmental contacts in Washington DC. Roberson had been under contract as a consultant at ASU working with Kevin Baugh this past year. "Kevin is a former Navy Seal and works as Government and Industry Liaison for ASU in both Arizona and in Washington DC where he lives," Roberson said. "We have been working on a humanitarian consortium effort at ASU and are in touch on a regular basis."
When Baugh heard about the project he quickly sent out an email with friends serving with U.S Pacific Command (PACOM)
in southeast Asia. After nearly three months of frustrating delays, the wheels of the effort began picking up speed. "In this day and age when much of what we hear about our armed forces has to do with combat operations, it's important for people to know about the humanitarian assistance they are also doing in many corners of the world," Roberson said. "I have always been inspired not only by their amazing ability to move people and supplies quickly and efficiently, but also by their repeated and profound desire to help people in need," "This was really epitomized by PACOM."
The shipment was delivered by PACOM last week to the Ateneo de Zamboanga University School of Medicine. The school operates numerous rural medical clinics in the southern Philippines.
Medical students and staff physicians not only operate these small rural clinics, but also walk days through the tropical jungles to remote villages so they can offer medical treatment to isolated residents.
This is an area that is constantly struggling with chronic terrorist conflict, tropical disease and seasonal typhoon disasters. Of the estimated 80 million residents of the Philippines, 50 million live rurally dispursed on over 7000 islands. Most have very limited or no access to modern healthcare.
The supplies are currently being distributed to these remote clinics from the island of Mindanao to the tiny southern-most island of Tawi Tawi. “The shipment is sent in memory little Myco,” Roberson said. “This will save lives and reduce the suffering that is a terrible part of day to day life there.”