WRHA, Health Canada cut off charity
Liability fears deny supplies of used equipment to Third World
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/09/2009 (5016 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Winnipeg-based international aid agency that sends surplus medical equipment to Third World communities says it will close its doors following a decision by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to stop providing it with equipment.
Over the past seven years, International HOPE Canada has sent 25 40-foot containers filled with hospital beds, crutches, canes, wheelchairs, unused sutures and bandages overseas to community hospitals in the Third World.
Roma Maconachie said all that work will end because its principal suppliers — hospitals and facilities operated by the WRHA — have been instructed to stop the practice.
"If the WRHA can’t be persuaded to change its position, then our work will cease and all this equipment will end up as waste in a landfill," Maconachie, president of International HOPE Canada, said.
Maconachie said she learned of the WRHA decision indirectly in March, when hospital staff told her they’d been instructed to stop giving the group any equipment. Maconachie said she wrote to WRHA president Brian Postl in March but he never responded. She said she eventually learned from Health Minister Theresa Oswald that the WRHA is concerned it could be legally liable if any of its donated equipment malfunctions.
WRHA spokeswoman Heidi Graham said the health authority supports the work of International HOPE Canada but added that a Health Canada requirement that most donated equipment be labelled and tracked in the event of a recall meant it could no longer provide used or surplus equipment.
"We just don’t have the staff to track this equipment in perpetuity," Graham said. "Otherwise we’d be liable.
"We think the work they do is wonderful but this is a Health Canada issue."
Federal NDP health critic Judy Wasylyscia-Leis said Health Canada is being too inflexible.
"They are putting up what would appear to be unnecessary roadblocks," Wasylycia-Leis said, adding it’s unlikely a Third World hospital would sue the WRHA when it is helping it out.
A spokeswoman for Health Canada was looking into the issue but did not provide comment by press time.
Health Canada’s policy was enacted in 1998 and it came to the WRHA’s attention in 2004. Postl subsequently wrote to the federal health minister asking for the policy to be reviewed because he believed it was too restrictive.
International HOPE Canada was started 10 years ago by a Winnipeg operating-room nurse, Phyllis Reader, who took used hospital equipment on medical missions to Third World countries. Maconachie said the agency partners with church and aid groups looking for medical equipment. The Winnipeg agency collects the material and the partner agency pays for the container and all shipping charges.
In the last seven years, Maconachie said, International HOPE Canada has sent containers to Ukraine, Africa, the Caribbean, and the Philippines. It is now readying a container for Nigeria.
The equipment consists of new or old or slightly damaged goods — like hospital beds, stretchers, and canes. The goods are repaired. Maconachie said the agency sometimes received new or unused goods from local facilities that have had to close down rooms or are changing their role.
Maconachie said the agency spent the last six months lobbying provincial and federal officials, hoping they would pressure the WRHA to alter its position. The group decided to go public because it felt it had no alternative.
"We’ve now reached the point that this next container will be one of our last," Maconachie said. "We receive many items from rural RHAs too but we’re concerned that they too will soon follow the WRHA’s decision and we’ll have nothing to ship."
Oswald was not available for comment on Friday but a spokesman for the provincial health minister said the government understands that there is a liability issue for the WRHA due to Health Canada’s policy.
"However, we commend and support Hope International for their great work around the globe," he said. "We will work with WRHA and Hope International to look at policies and practices in other jurisdictions in order to find a mutually agreeable solution to this issue."
— With files from Mia Rabson and