MedAid: the students working to improve planetary and human health

Medicine has a considerable environmental impact, with 100 million tonnes of solid waste generated each year in the UK, 85% of which generally ends up in landfill sites across England and Wales.

We hear from the students trying to tackle this by directing medical surplusses to countries in need of medical supplies.

MedAid’s mission, which is aptly summed up by the treasurer, Shazlin Shek Daud, is where the committee, members and volunteers alike, “act as the middleman, where we collect out of date medical equipment and excess supplies, and we send them to people worldwide.”

MedAid is truly armed with a unique mission and power, where Shazlin expressed that “not only are we able to help people who are in desperate need, but we also contribute in reducing the environmental impact of the NHS. According to (NHS Digital, 2019), the NHS is the largest public sector contributing to greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. There are various factors which contribute to this phenomenon, and one of them includes the disposal of domestic and clinical waste through landfill and incineration (Royal College of Physicians, 2018). By aiding the re-distribution of unused medical supplies to those in need, we help to reduce the NHS’s carbon footprint by diverting waste from landfill or incineration. We also help ensure the sustainability of other healthcare institutions that do not receive adequate funding and financial support. What we do at MedAid is an excellent example that simple acts can hugely benefit the community and environment.”

As our president, Alba Saenz de Villaverde stated “This is not just a society, but a movement. MedAid not only increases the health of others but the health of our planet. It is an efficient, easy system – which works. It is a system that should be used everywhere and by everyone. As a generation, we face many problems. Free access to healthcare and sustainability are just a few of them. But MedAid allows our small actions to contribute to something bigger, and it is in these small actions that the true power of change lies. We often try to improve our health, focusing on ourselves and look inwardly instead of outwards, where we ignore the impact we are having on our environment. We all wanted to become doctors in order to do something good and meaningful with our lives; in order to make a difference. But it is not just people who are suffering, but the planet itself. And that is something we are striving to improve.”

MedAid’s aim of “End Excess. Stop Wastage!” have encouraged many more liked minded individual, such as Sophie Tripple who “ joined MedAid Edinburgh after hearing and reading about the brilliant work they do to promote global health and sustainability — the two things I’m passionate about. For me, it just makes sense that viable medical equipment does not go to waste and can instead be used in resource-limited settings. “

Being actively involved in the society as the secretary, Sophie said that “Although MedAid is a relatively small society, I think it’s great how loads of people can and do get involved by collecting unused equipment and distributing them to healthcare settings all over the world on their medical electives. It’s always fascinating to read the stories from our distributors and hear first hand about the benefit that can come from these small contributions, which otherwise would have been discarded. I believe that working together in this way and collaborating with other charities and organisations can make a difference in reducing both excess and shortage- a win-win!”

This sentiment is equally echoed throughout the committee members of MedAid. Individuals like Svenja Harvey who is currently studying medicine and is the current Resource Director for MedAid was driven by the desire to “ helped bridge the gap between the shortage of medical equipment in developing countries and wastage in our own country.” Having spent some time

in Tanzania, Svenja had seen first-hand just how under-equipped the hospitals were and how this, combined with the limited access to much-needed drugs, impacted patient’s care. This was in stark contrast with her experience of working in Boots pharmacy where she would see completely unused medication being returned to the store, which, under the legislation, must be discarded. “ I can’t help but become sometimes infuriated when the completely untouched medication is thrown away just like that when there are patients in countries like Tanzania who are desperately in need of those drugs.” From her point of view, “MedAid indirectly helps boost economic sustainability as it donates, for free, lifesaving medical equipment that is desperately needed by some countries while also reducing the burden of disposing of unused equipment – also contributing to environmental sustainability.

MedAid plays a large role in social sustainability. One of the main ethical principles of medicine is to always act in the best interest of the patient. This extends beyond just individual patients to wider society; as a charity, we have a social responsibility to act for the benefit of society at large. The NHS in itself operates in a socially responsible way in the sense that healthcare is free at the point of access. We want to reflect this principle in our charity — we strive to provide these countries with free medical supplies and equipment in the same way the NHS provides the UK. Giving back in this way is essential for allowing these countries to provide the best possible care for their patients, which is at the forefront of what MedAid stands for.”

All members of MedAid holds a strong belief that their time and effort spend into helping to run, organise and to fundraise for the society is extremely rewarding – given that the society helps both the environment and humanity alike. Grace Loy, the publicity director of MedAid expressed that “No matter how small we think our actions are, as long as we strive to help reduce, reuse and recycle products and material in a sustainable way, we can, together, help to improve the quality of our life while living within the carrying capacity of the Earth’s supporting ecosystem- and I believe MedAid is such a society. It would be amazing if word about this society and its effort to help maintain sustainability in the medical field will be able to spread further as I believe that there will be individuals out there who would love to join and support this worthwhile cause… either by donation or by helping out!”

In short, MedAid hopes to be able to, in our way, encourage further rethinking and research into the potential opportunity to reduce medical waste footprints and to facilitate the speed of progress of the healthcare sector towards economic, social and environmental sustainability.

Contact them on their Facebook page: MedAID Edinburgh or through email at medaid.charity@gmail.com

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