British Columbia

Vancouver charity sends shipping containers full of medical supplies to West Africa

The Korle-Bu Neuroscience Foundation collects donated hospital beds, wheelchairs, crutches, and stretchers. This weekend, a group of volunteers packed 8 shipping containers bound for hospitals in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria.

Donated beds, wheelchairs, crutches, and stretchers are being packed in shipping containers

Derek Agyapong-Poku, vice-president of the Korle-Bu Neuroscience Foundation, is originally from Ghana and says the supply shipments have a huge impact back home. (Nic Amaya/CBC)

A Delta, B.C., warehouse was a hive of activity this weekend as volunteers carefully packed piles of donated medical supplies like bandages, wheelchairs, crutches and beds into eight shipping containers bound for West Africa.

Vancouver-based Korle-Bu Neuroscience Foundation is a charity that started in 2000 with four nurses and a donation of hospital beds from the British Columbia government.

"We started container shipments flowing and we've never stopped," said Marjorie Ratel, president of the foundation and one of the original nurses.

Volunteers packed medical supplies into shipping containers at a warehouse in Delta, B.C., this weekend. (Nic Amaya/CBC)

Today, the charity has expanded to include partnerships, teaching and mentorship programs with partners based in West Africa, but the medical supply shipments remain an important part of their work.

The medical supplies — tools for the operating room, linens, syringes, nursing supplies, walkers, crutches, hospital beds, stretchers — are all donated from nursing homes and hospitals across B.C.

"These are products not being utilized [here] because they've moved on to new ones," Ratel said.

The supplies are earmarked for several West African nations including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria.

Ebola increased need

Ratel says it's an especially crucial lifeline as some of the partner hospitals in West Africa were hit hard by the 2013 to 2016 Ebola crisis. The World Health Organization reported more than 11,000 people died from the deadly virus outbreak.

"Ebola decimated the medical and nursing profession over there. One hospital we're sending equipment to today — Phoebe Hospital — they lost 23 out of their 25 nurses to Ebola," she said.

"How do you put a hospital back together when you've lost 95 per cent of your workforce?"

Marjorie Ratel is president and founder of the Korle-Bu Neuroscience Foundation, a charity that started in 2000. (Nic Amaya/CBC)

Although the supplies are donated, there are still shipping costs. Before the Ebola crisis, Ratel said the partner hospitals covered the costs of shipping: about $9,000 for one container from B.C.

"They're just trying to get back on top," she said. "You can't ask them to send the money."

The group is fundraising and has raised enough so far to send the first three containers.

Warmly received

Derek Agyapong-Poku, vice-president of the charity, is originally from Ghana and says the supply shipments have a huge impact back home.

"We are limited in Africa, so every little [bit] helps. Everything that we get from abroad goes a long way to help in Ghana," Agyapong-Poku said.

The Korle-Bu Neuroscience Foundation has raised enough money to send three shipping containers, and are hoping to raise enough money to send five more by September. (Nic Amaya/CBC)

When they first started, he says there were some suspicions from the locals about the intentions of the charity.

"But once we started getting the supplies and it was free and there's no strings attached, they realized that … They are really enjoying the supplies that we're sending home," he said.

"It feels great to be helping."

With files from Deb Goble