In 2015, the United Nations developed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future” to be achieve by 2030. The SDGs were preceded by the eight Millennium Development Goals, which directed the world’s governments and development institutions toward equality in meeting the world’s needs. Global Volunteers is committed to the vision and volition of the SDGs, and the MDGs before them, and measure our outcomes accordingly. In this blog series, we share the work of companion organizations toward achieving the SDGs. In this post, we describe how Medical Bridges has supplied medical equipment to NGOs serving impoverished and uninsured populations for over twenty years.
Medical Bridges’ mission is to “bridge the healthcare gap worldwide by procuring and distributing medical equipment and supplies to underserved communities.” To help us understand how they use the SDGs to guide their work, Medical Bridges’ CEO Walter Ulrich responded to our questions.
How often, and in what ways does your organization respond to the UN SDGs?
Medical Bridges focused on the UN SDGs relating to health since before the SDG’s were created. Leading cancer surgeon, Dr. Patricia Brock, pediatric specialist, Dr. Margaret Goetz, and engineer, Hayne Blakely, created the first recycling system for medical surplus in Texas. The idea came about after Drs Brock and Goetz traveled to El Salvador on a medical mission trip and witnessed the terribly under-resourced setting in which healthcare providers cared for the community. Meanwhile back home they had seen sterile medical supplies being disposed of due to strict hospital protocols. Medical Bridges was founded in 1997 to bridge the healthcare gap worldwide by keeping sterile supplies and valuable equipment out of our ecosystem and instead help provide healthcare to the impoverished and uninsured. For 23 years, Medical Bridges has empowered health, wellbeing, and as a byproduct has kept local landfills from e-waste and trash.
Which SDGs do you believe your work impacts most?
Our impact starts with SDG17 where we connect and partner with organizations and individuals with a shared vision of placing our people and planet first. Medical Bridges was founded through a common vision and led to becoming Houston’s first medical surplus reallocator. Not much has changed today, we continue to collaborate with international organizations and individuals to fortify health and find innovative solutions to global health challenges.
Medical Bridges supports SDG3 by being of service and supplying healthcare workers caring for impoverished patients of all ages. Your health status is dependent on our changes to our planet. With climate changes and pollution on the rise, our health is on the line. The U.S healthcare system discards $9 billion worth of health medical supplies and equipment each year and Medical Bridges happens to be only a few minutes away from the world’s largest medical complex. It would be a shame for these great resources to go to waste. Not only is it not resourceful, it further contaminates our water sources with e-waste toxic solutions and plastic which are harmful to animals and human health. By continuing our work with SDG3, Medical Bridges also helps SDG14 by keeping our water cleaner for our ecosystem and our health.
Over the years, how have the SDGs informed your organizational vision?
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals serve as a beacon for nonprofits across the world including Medical Bridges’ vision. Many years before the SDGs were established, Medical Bridges had been addressing healthcare waste and health disparities by procuring, repairing, distributing, and repurposing tons of medical resources. Medical Bridges reallocated sterile medical supplies out of landfills and into the hands of doctors and nurses in need. With only 9 years to reach the 2030 SDG timeline, our team has made it a priority to collaborate, innovate, and work towards a more equitable and cleaner world.
Has the global pandemic interfered with your ability to provide supplies to your partners around the world? What has been the outcome?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals and clinics shut their doors and kept all inventory. Our team had a hard time finding supplies and it broke our hearts since we knew there was and continues to be a global demand. When things got a little better, hospitals began opening their doors and recycling their medical surplus. Thankfully, our staff is doing an amazing job following all safety measures allowing for our mission to continue serving those in need. We fulfilled all requested shipments and at the end of the year, we had distributed 43 maritime shipping containers filled with medical resources which we refer to as Containers of Hope. This global health crisis continues, and you can bet that our team will be here to continue supplying and being of service to those who serve.
How do you describe your SDG outcomes?
Every year Medical Bridges repurposes over 100 tons of medical resources. All supplies and equipment are entered into the system and accounted for. All national and international shipments include a breakdown of items including its cost, market value cost, and weight. At the end of the year, Medical Bridges is audited to ensure maximum transparency to all supporters.
How do you collaborate with other NGOs, agencies and/or corporations to accomplish SDG outcomes?
Medical Bridges’ mission is propelled by passionate and like-minded individuals who see a world in which every person has access to healthcare with dignity and respect. Collaboration is key to make this possible. Medical Bridges fosters deep bonds with sponsoring partners such as international NGO’s and corporations to distribute accredited medical resources to underserved healthcare facilities across the world. Medical Bridges recognizes that it cannot fully understand the situation on the ground and the culture everywhere we serve so we keep strong connections with the benefitted community.
How important are the SDGs as a motivational or organizational tool for international cooperation on the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice?
Martin Luther King recognized that inequality in healthcare is among the worst kinds of injustice. If people are not in good health, they cannot rise above poverty, they may not be able to be educated, and with poverty, economic opportunity fails to exist. The SDGs allow for Medical Bridges to think of other ongoing issues that are very much interconnected with health. It challenges us to think beyond our reach and be innovative towards addressing other humanitarian challenges. From an organizational point of view, SDGs help us quickly identify organizations with a similar mindset and vision. Therefore, it opens more opportunities for conversation and collaboration.
What motivates you, personally, in your work to achieve your organization’s goals to improve the world?
My mother was a nurse during the war and my wife is a well-known nurse and professor at UT Health Cizik School of Nursing. I have seen them and heard stories providing healthcare and helping those in need. Since 2019, I have had the blessing and joy to leverage 50 years of business success to help those who are less fortunate. I am fortunate to be part of Medical Bridges’ mission and lead an amazing team towards bridging the healthcare gap worldwide.
Global Volunteers respects Medical Bridges’ effort to help supply NGOs with equipment for health care projects worldwide, and invites opportunities for partnerships in these areas. Read on to learn how Global Volunteers’ impacts address the United Nations SDGs and how our Reaching Children’s Potential Program is helping to end stunting in Tanzanian villages.