Metro Morning

Tourists deliver medical supplies by the suitcase

Access to medical supplies in some parts of the world can mean life or death, so one Toronto organization is out to help increase that access, one suitcase at a time.

Not Just Tourists uses travellers heading abroad to get medical supplies to those in need

Not Just Tourists require the traveller to repack the medical supplies for customs reasons. (Not Just Tourists - GTA Chapter)

Access to medical supplies in some parts of the world can mean life or death, so one Toronto organization is out to help increase that access, one suitcase at a time.

Not Just Tourists thinks it has a clever way to get medical supplies to hospitals and clinics around the world where resources are scarce. They send them on the backs and in the hands of tourists travelling to these destinations.

And it appears those bags are adding up. As many as 225 suitcases have been sent abroad, equalling 30,800 pounds of medical supplies, according to the Not Just Tourists site.

It began with a doctor named Ken Taylor and his wife Denise in St. Catharines, Ont., about 26 years ago. The two were on a bike trip through Cuba and noticed there was a huge need for medical supplies. They started with one suitcase and then it became an organization sending suitcases.

Avi D'Souza saw one of those suitcases being delivered.

"I was working for a few years in Honduras, running a rum cake company," he told Metro Morning. "One day I noticed a traveller bringing a suitcase of supplies to a clinic called Ms. Peggy's, and I thought it was a brilliant thing to do."

Now he's the program director of the Toronto chapter of the organization.

"You will see empty shelves, you'll see a nurse working away with no or very little supplies," he said of some of the locations.

Each suitcase is about 22 pounds and worth about $200 to $300.

"We pack the suitcase with supplies, get the tourist to unpack and repack it for custom reasons and include a customs letter," said D'Souza of the logistics of sending a suitcase full of medical supplies across international borders.

"To get through customs, we send medical supplies, not medicines — so things like gauze, bandages, surgical instruments, masks, gloves and more.

'We want to let people know we care'

According to D'Souza, most Canadians don't know the level of wasted of medical supplies here. "As just one example, when someone passes away, family members may dispose of their medical supplies, even though they are unused and still good," he said. "Now those can be donated to us."

This is a mostly inexpensive way to ship the supplies, but it also creates a personal connection, said D'Souza.

"We want to let people know we care through giving them medical supplies," he said.

Videos on the the group's web page show volunteers hand-delivering the suitcases to overjoyed clinics in places like Ecuador.

"Sure we could send these things over in a container, but our objective is to create personal connections between the person travelling and locals," he said.

"It also gives the traveller a different perspective on their destination — they may have to leave where they are and go into a slum or a remote area. There is also an opportunity for the traveller to develop into a long-term benefactor of the clinic."


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