SEATTLE -– In an Everett warehouse, 20,000 pounds of medical equipment is ready to be shipped to Africa aboard the first 787 Dreamliner being delivered to Ethiopian Airlines. The materials are flying free under a program established by Boeing back in 1992 to help get humanitarian aid where its needed using the empty space aboard new aircraft being delivered to customers.
The shipment comes from Seattle Anesthesia Outreach -- a group formed in 2008 by doctors and nurses from Seattle’s Swedish Hospital. The organization has used the Boeing service four or five times to get equipment and supplies to the Black Lion hospital in Addis Ababa.
“It’s been a godsend for us. We’re a small organization,” said Dr. Julian Judelman, a retired anesthesiologist and board member for SAO. “Our total annual budget runs around $40,000. That wouldn’t pay for one shipment."
When SAO stepped into help the Ethiopian hospital it looked to ship a container full of equipment half way around the world. Not only was it expensive, it would have had to travel through other countries over what promised to be rough roads to a part of the world where cargo theft is a problem.
The current shipment includes five anesthesia machines to help put patients out during surgery. Eight other machines went over on the last flight -- donated by Swedish, which has replaced them with newer models. The used machines work fine, and are light years ahead of what doctors in Addis Ababa have to work with now.
Anesthesia carts -- purchased new with donated funds -- are also on the flight, along with cauterizing machines, patient monitors, fiber optic light sources, a neurosurgery scrub table, sterilizer, and some 30 electrical transformers to allow the American equipment to run on Ethiopia’s 220 volt system. Intensive care beds will have to wait for room on the next trip.
But the mission of SAO is far broader than just getting precious equipment into the hands of doctors who need it. The bottom line, said Dr. Judelman, is that Ethiopia doesn’t have enough doctors. Black Lion is a public teaching hospital, but it only had two residents in anesthesia when SAO first got involved. Now there are eight, and that’s a major sign of progress. Some 20 doctors, nurses and medical experts from the Northwest will be helping out this year, many paying their own way to get there.
“The country now is trying to expand the number of physicians it produces,” said Judelman.
But the program isn’t just about doctors. Those high-tech anesthesia machines won’t be worth much unless they are kept working. Steve Sands, a Certified biomedical equipment technician at Swedish, has already made several trips to Ethiopia and will be return to put the new equipment into service and train technicians who will keep it going after he leaves. “Everybody who goes over is a volunteer,” he said.
To learn more about Seattle Anesthesia Outreach, visit the organization's website: www.seattleao.org.