Hope in health care

A letter from the Winnipeg Health Region

Winnipeg Health Region President & CEO
Wave, July / August 2012

Arlene Wilgosh

It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But, sometimes, you can better appreciate the significance of a photograph if you know a little bit more about the story behind it.

Take, for example, the image on this page showing a smiling nurse sitting in a room surrounded by medical supplies.

The nurse in question is Florence Msowoya, a nun who manages a small hospital in the impoverished nation of Malawi, located in southeast Africa. At the time this picture was taken in 2009, she was in charge of a tiny hospital in the small village of Katete.

And the reason for the smile?

She has just taken delivery of 10 tonnes of medical supplies, courtesy of International HOPE Canada, a Winnipeg-based charity that collects and sends surplus medical equipment and materials to clinics and hospitals in developing countries around the world. And that is no small thing.

As our story points out, hospitals and clinics operating in developing countries often lack even basic medical equipment and supplies. The community hospital in Katete is no exception. Although it is called a hospital, it is really just a collection of small rooms - the men's ward has nine beds, some without mattresses.

As for equipment, consider this: three years ago, sheets and clothing used at the hospital were cleaned by a woman who scrubbed each item with a bar of soap on a table. Once the items were washed, she used a charcoal-powered iron to press them (the iron is loaded with charcoal and placed on a stove to retain heat).

This is where International HOPE Canada comes into play. The organization was officially launched in 2001. Phyllis Reader, a former operating room nurse, became interested in the idea of collecting medical equipment for shipment overseas after getting a first-hand look at the difficult conditions health-care providers had to contend with in developing countries in the late 1990s. The Michalyshens, meanwhile, also learned of the problems in these countries while working for three years in Malawi. Merv is a retired teacher who taught school near Katete, while Sonia, a retired nurse, worked at a clinic.

Upon returning to Canada, they worked with members of their local church to send medical supplies overseas before partnering with Phyllis to form International HOPE Canada.

The desire to help others is a common trait among health-care workers, current or retired. It's in their DNA. Dozens of people working in the Winnipeg Health Region have travelled abroad over the years as part of medical missions to help those who need it. You will find one such example on page 20 of this issue of Wave involving a group of 50 local health-care providers who are heading to Nicaragua this fall. As it turns out, the group is drawing on supplies from International HOPE's warehouse as they prepare for their trip.

There are examples of hope in health care on the home front as well. This story about Dr. Davinder Jassal's efforts to protect the heart from the harmful effects of drugs used to treat breast cancer is one example. This story about a new initiative at the Children's Hospital to prevent injuries to kids with brittle bones is another.

Although International HOPE started small the organization soon gained momentum, and by 2007 was becoming adept at packaging large containers of goods. It was about this time that the Michalyshens heard from one of their overseas friends, a woman named Florence Msowoya. Prior to becoming a nun, Sister Florence had been a student at Merv's school. She wrote to the Michalyshens, as she often did, to let them know she had recently been appointed administrator of the community hospital in Katete.

Sister Florence

Sister Florence

Although she did not ask for any help, the Michalyshens knew from their experience she would need it. Working with the parishioners of Ste. Anne Ukrainian Catholic Church and some business people, they raised $18,500 to send the container to Sister Florence.

As you can see by the photograph, the supplies did land in Malawi. Among the many items in that container were various ointments and pharmaceuticals long past their best-before dates and no longer usable in Canada, along with walkers, wheelchairs and other items that were no longer up to Canadian standards. The Michalyshens even managed to send along a washing machine and an electric iron.

Needless to say, International HOPE Canada serves as a kind of lifeline for health-care providers like Sister Florence. But that does not mean the organization hasn't had to overcome any roadblocks along the way.

A few years back, the group ran into difficulty because of a Health Canada regulation that handcuffed the ability of health regions to donate surplus supplies.

As the Deputy Minister of Health back then, I worked with former Region President & CEO Brian Postl to cut through the legal red tape and help make it possible for International HOPE to continue its work. I'm glad we were able to do so. The organization's volunteers, community partners and corporate supporters are doing so much to provide hope to people in need. It's wonderful work they do, work of which we can all be proud. The proof is in the picture.

Wave: July / August 2012

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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