Local foundation Brother's Brother shipping medical supplies to Africa
Luke Hingson, left, president of Brother's Brother Foundation, shows a operation bed to Tillman Collins, president of Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas, on Wednesday in the North Side.
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To American eyes, the hand-cranked hospital beds in the North Side warehouse of the Brother's Brother Foundation appear to be obsolete. But to hospitals in Africa without electricity, they are priceless
Tillman Collins, a Pleasant Hills resident who was a member of Liberia's congress until civil war forced him to flee 18 years ago, was delighted to inspect them. Now, as president of the Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas, named for his native county in Liberia, he is working with Brother's Brother to supply a hospital there.
Though the wars ended in 2003, Liberia has barely begun to recover. Its hospitals were looted, shelled, medical books burned for fuel.
"Poor people here would be middle class in my country. They have electricity and running water," he said.
Luke Hingson, president of Brother's Brother, said that patients in African hospitals often sleep on the floor for lack of beds.
Brother's Brother was founded in 1958, after Mr. Hingson's father, anesthesiologist Dr. Robert Hingson, led a medical mission to Liberia and saw the need. Partnering with charities in the United States and abroad, the foundation solicited good, surplus medical supplies and shipped them to where they were needed. It also provides educational and emergency relief supplies.
According to its annual report, in 2010 Brother's Brother shipped about $270 million worth of medical, educational and humanitarian relief supplies to 53 nations in 236 containers. Brother's Brother also gave cartons of medical supplies to health workers who were going on 241 mission trips to 36 countries.
Although the hospital that Mr. Collins is raising money for is public, most health facilities that serve the poor in Africa are run by churches, Mr. Hingson said. Brother's Brother, which is secular, decided two years ago to make medical supplies for Africa a major focus. It is currently assisting Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, Adventist, Salvation Army, Presbyterian and independent evangelical health facilities in Zimbabwe, Liberia, Tanzania, South Sudan and Malawi.
In 2011 Brother's Brother shipped 22 sea-going cargo containers of medical supplies to those nations.
It helps local church groups send supplies to partners overseas. Pittsburgh Presbytery is active in Malawi, for instance, while the Spiritan Fathers at Duquesne University have missions in Tanzania.
Duquesne has become one of the foundation's many partners. Anne Marie Hansen, an assistant professor of occupational therapy, had been a lay missionary in Tanzania and has spent 30 years doing research there. She had encouraged the Spiritans to work with Brother's Brother to support their African missions but didn't get personally involved until two years ago. That was when the deans of Duquesne's heath sciences and business schools collaborated on sending five containers of medical and educational supplies to Tanzania.
Ms. Hansen offered to lead a needs assessment for Brother's Brother, to make sure the hospitals got supplies that they truly needed. She surveyed Catholic and Lutheran hospitals in the Arusha region of Tanzania, which she said serve the poorest of the poor. Maternity wards routinely have two or three women in labor sharing a bed, she said.
"One thing I really appreciate about Brother's Brother is that they didn't just want to send stuff because they had it. They were concerned at looking at what the specific needs are," she said.
Hand-cranked surgical tables and beds were desperately needed. They have been donated by nursing homes and health centers that are phasing them out for convenience, though they meet all U.S. standards. Volunteer retirees from American Sterilizer in Erie refurbish them.
"It's being done by the same people who made them 20 years ago," Mr. Hingson said.
Because Brother's Brother started in Liberia, work there is close to Mr. Hingson's heart. Mr. Collins is organizing aid for Tubman Hospital, a public facility in Grand Gedeh. Through him, Mr. Hingson connected with members of the Krao ethnic group, who are raising funds for Redemption Hospital in New Kru Town, Liberia.
Liberian work got a boost from Myron Hartman, program director of the Biomedical Engineering Technology program at Penn State, who made an assessment trip for Brother's Brother and the United Methodist Committee on Relief a year ago.
In order to provide sophisticated equipment, such as badly needed X-ray machines, he had to train technicians to assemble and maintain them. He brought two Liberians to Penn State and gave them intensive training. They are now back in Liberia, reassembling donated equipment that they dismantled over the summer in the United States.
Mr. Collins dreams of a day when American-educated Liberian refugees will return to help rebuild that country. He will take volunteers there in 2012 to paint and rebuild parts of Tubman Hospital. He is also raising money for a water tower, because the hospital lacks running water.
"When we heard about Brother's Brother and got in touch with Luke, it was a blessing," Mr. Collins said.
The foundation is helping the Liberians to help themselves, he said.
"In Africa we always depended on the government to do things for us. Now we need to get involved and do things for ourselves."
First Published December 30, 2011 12:00 am