After Irma’s Destruction, Global Links Ships Surplus Medical Equipment to Cuba

Cuba, public health, Global Links, Pittsburgh, disaster relief, Leon KayeAs Cuba continues to recover from Hurricane Irma’s destruction, one NGO is stepping up to help the island’s 11.5 million people recover by donating medical equipment – while helping waste diversion efforts here in the U.S.

Global Links is one of the few U.S. non-profits the U.S. Department of Commerce has licensed to work in Cuba, and by most accounts is the largest donor of medical assistance and supplies to Cuba from the U.S.

Now the organization is working with the Pan American Health Organization, World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) and other international agencies to assess Cuba’s healthcare sector in order to gauge what is most needed by Cuba’s citizens in the wake of last month’s hurricane. According to Global Links, equipment that is likely to be most requested and shipped to Cuba in the coming months include wheelchairs, hospital beds, mattresses, gurneys, scrubs and linens. Medical and laboratory supplies such as disinfectants, exam and surgical gloves, syringes and catheters are also in demand.

The island’s strained medical system and loss of power throughout Cuba is hampering local efforts to ensure citizens have access to healthcare. Problems that have stemmed from Irma’s aftermath, including high water levels, present additional health risks.

Meeting such needs is nothing new to Global Links, which first started partnering with the PAHO and WHO in 1994. The Pittsburgh-based group has coordinated with hospitals and clinics in the greater Pittsburgh area, as well as across the wider mid-Atlantic region, to source unwanted surplus medical equipment and supplies. As a result, Global Links says that volunteers working with Global Links have prevented over 300 tons of healthcare equipment and materials from ending up in landfills annually. Those supplies, which have been valued at a total of $190 million over the years, have long helped save lives across Cuba.

Now the group is accelerating efforts to source medical products in order to help Cuba’s healthcare system recover from Irma’s damage, which included the loss of many medical facilities and the supplies housed in them. Volunteers are currently cleaning and repairing gently used and unwanted equipment. In the meantime, Global Links has launched a fundraising drive in order to bolster its support for Cuba’s medical professionals, hospitals and clinics. Such efforts are also designed to strengthen Cuba’s public health system and ensure its long-term viability.

This disaster relief is especially necessary as Cuba faces a difficult tourism season, which in the year after year has been critical to the island’s economy. In addition to the hit the country’s travel sector faces, the country’s electricity grid and agricultural sector also suffered from heavy damage.

“Global Links has been involved with disaster recovery in Cuba after many serious hurricanes over the last 23 years, but the damage from Irma is the most serious and far-reaching. Recovery from a disaster of this magnitude will take years,” said Global Links Executive Director and Co-Founder Kathleen Hower in an emailed statement to TriplePundit. “Because Pittsburgh regional hospitals and health systems are both generous and committed to taking the extra steps of directing their surplus to us year-round rather than sending it to landfills, we are well supplied to respond to this crisis.”

Image credit: Global Links

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Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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