MUSC surplus equipment arrives at West African hospital, makes positive impact

Adam Wise
December 14, 2023
Workers begin unloading a shipping container of donated medical equipment and supplies from MUSC earlier this year at Mercy Hospital in Bo, Sierra Leone. Submitted images

Several months and a 4,600-mile voyage across the Atlantic Ocean later, a large shipment of surplus MUSC equipment is making a substantial, positive difference at a hospital in Far West Africa.

In May, University staff loaded a 40-foot shipping container with donated medical equipment and supplies from MUSC was shipped to Mercy Hospital, a 50-bed hospital in Bo, Sierra Leone. The hospital has a primary emphasis on childbirth and maternal health.

The relationship with Bo, Sierra Leone, was first struck up by Gary Gilkeson, M.D., an associate dean for Faculty Affairs, Development and Wellness in the College of Medicine. Gilkeson’s first trip to Sierra Leone 14 years ago was with the West African Fistula Foundation that provided corrective surgery for women with significant trauma at childbirth. Three trips later, Gary’s wife, Mary Ann, started to accompany him on trips with the nonprofit, Helping Children Worldwide (HCW), an organization that was created in 2000 to support children and families affected by the result of civil war in the country. HCW established Mercy Hospital in Bo to provide care for those who were unable to pay for health care.

An operating room light, donated by MUSC, appears unpacked at Mercy Hospital in Bo, Sierra Leone.

Gary said it was obvious that Mercy Hospital had a dire need for equipment – as well as staff support of volunteers in additional medical training – to serve its patient population better.

“They have next to nothing as far as equipment – they had no autoclave, no operating room lights, no lab equipment,” he explained. “We’ve taken equipment over before, but this was the first time doing a large shipment. We didn’t realize you don’t just call someone up to take it over; it was an extremely laborious and time-consuming process.”

Though the care they provide is exceptional given the circumstances, Mercy Hospital had always been a sparsely equipped facility, making it incredibly difficult to serve its patients. This is how the idea to identify and donate surplus MUSC equipment was first conceptualized to address the need. Mercy staff provided a list of supplies and equipment they most needed, and it was used to put together the shipment.

A great deal of effort went into the logistical planning for the shipment, including using pallets treated for against insects, obtaining requisite approvals and ensuring proper delivery to the facility. Having arrived in Bo in late August, the shipment included operating room lights, surgical instruments, automated external defibrillators, wheelchairs, hospital bassinets, 10 pallets of personal protective equipment and much more. Team volunteers completed training sessions on the use of the equipment.

“This latest shipment, with the operating lights donated, provided a significant improvement given staff had been using cell phone lights for some time to aid during surgeries,” Gary said.

On the recent trip in July, three MUSC staff members made the journey with the Gilkesons to participate in training events, and two MUSC-affiliated staff members have gone on multiple trips. In terms of help at home, the continued relief could not have been accomplished without the assistance of numerous individuals on campus, including Jennifer Simon, a business analyst in Capital Planning, who has also been instrumental in the effort, and a number of personnel in the MUSC Warehouse donated substantial time and effort to make it all possible.

All agree that the onerous planning and hard work are absolutely worth it. The ability to make such a positive difference in the lives of the people in the small West African country, which has close ties to the Lowcountry, has been icing on the cake.

Donated surplus equipment from MUSC appears at Mercy Hospital in Bo, Sierra Leone.

Augusta Kpanabum, the matron, or head of nursing care, at Mercy Hospital, said the MUSC donations have made an incredible impact on the facility and the patients it serves.

“This equipment has given additional value to the services rendered in the facility by making it have an edge over other hospitals,” Kpanabum said. “It has also helped in diagnosing diseases early and also taken prompt intervention in saving lives."

As for what’s next, the Gilkesons will continue supporting Mercy Hospital with another two-week trip in July – Gary’s ninth voyage to Africa and Mary Ann’s fourth.

“We continue to do it because we greatly admire the work being done by HCW at Mercy. There is great opportunity to help, but we gain more from them than they do from us” Gary said. “It’s my favorite two weeks of the year.”

To view photos of the shipment and equipment arriving onsite at Mercy Hospital, please visit our Flickr gallery.