Nurse opens local chapter of group that sends medical supplies with tourists
Not Just Tourists is a non-profit that collects surplus medical supplies for countries in need
Simone Feller has six suitcases full of medical supplies sitting in her basement.
Now, all she needs are some tourists willing to pick them up, take them to their destination and deliver them to doctors or hospitals that are short on supplies.
The 37-year-old Halifax nurse recently started a local chapter of Not Just Tourists, an organization that collects supplies and co-ordinates volunteers to deliver them.
For four months, Feller has been gathering medical supplies that otherwise would have ended up in the garbage. Now, travellers are what she needs.
Feller said each traveller is supplied with a letter that explains the organization's mission and what's in the suitcases to help them get through customs and avoid extra costs.
"We don't cover the baggage fees, but many, many airlines, if you say that you're bringing medical supplies … often those airlines will not charge any expense for any extra bag," said Feller.
The non-partisan, non-religious Not Just Tourists was started by an Ontario doctor in the late 1990s who took medical supplies to remote areas in Cuba. The volunteer-based organization has chapters across the country in Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa, and now in Halifax, the only location in Atlantic Canada.
Waste of medicine 'horrifying'
The amount of waste created in the medical industry, Feller said, is "horrifying" and part of the motivation for opening the new chapter in Halifax.
"We have a lot of strict ideas about sterility around medical supplies. I've been a nurse for eight years and if you even bring something into a patient's room, it has been thrown out, even if the package was never opened," said Feller.
Her own travels abroad also helped her to see first-hand the serious need for medicines and medical supplies in some countries.
She volunteered at a small hospital in Tanzania, where staff had only one set of nasal prongs used to supply oxygen to sick patients. That meant health-care providers sometimes had to make difficult decisions.
"We had an elderly man who was very ill using oxygen. Then a little baby came in and she needed oxygen and they didn't know what to do. And so they took it from the older man and gave it to the younger person, just hoping that that person would survive," said Feller.
That vivid memory stayed with Feller for years. She often tells people about the 100-bed hospital in Tanzania in hopes of encouraging home-care companies, patients, clinics and hospitals to donate medical supplies.
"I was just so devastated by that. You know, we throw out fully packaged nasal prongs all the time, and whether they're expired or not, that would've been life-altering for someone in a different country," said Feller.
Supplies come from home care
Feller sources most of her supplies from home care.
"We have a huge population of people who are getting home-care services in Nova Scotia and the Maritimes. A lot of that stuff goes to waste," said Feller.
The Halifax chapter of Not Just Tourists is still new and operating out of Feller's basement for the time being. But eventually she's hoping someone will donate space for packing.
For now, what's most needed are tourists willing to lend a helping hand.
Here's how you can help deliver medical supplies or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We've got all of the donated medical supplies together and sorted them all out and then packed a bunch of suitcases. And now we have a bunch of suitcases ready for people who sign up," said Feller.