As food and supplies for tsunami victims pour into southeast Asia from all over the world, the largest international aid organization in California is sending $667,876 in medical relief funds to Sri Lanka this morning.
Direct Relief, a Goleta-based organization that specializes in supplying medical supplies to disaster-stricken areas around the world, is shipping a 14,522-pound package of medical equipment to Colombo, Sri Lanka – an area hit hard by the Dec. 26 tsunami. A FedEx truck is scheduled to load the packages at 8 a.m. today for transport to Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health. The supplies will be distributed throughout the area, said Juliana Minsky, director of press relations for Direct Relief.
Minsky said this delivery is the third of several shipments scheduled for delivery to countries such as India and Sri Lanka.
“These shipments are part of a commitment to get the specific needs of those affected countries met,” Minsky said. “Supplies are being coordinated with people in these countries for what they need in the aftermath of the tsunami.”
Annie Maxwell, Direct Relief Chief of Staff, said today’s shipment includes items such as bandages, casting materials, splints and first-aid kits, as well as tracheal tubes and other equipment for chest injuries.
“Right now we’re responding to more immediate medical threats with trauma equipment,” Maxwell said. “As we go on we can send more equipment to treat waterborne problems like diarrheal disease.”
Later shipments, Maxwell said, will include pharmaceuticals such as oral rehydration solution, antibiotics to treat cholera patients and Lorabid, a medicine used to treat respiratory infections. She said large pharmaceutical or medical supply companies donated the supplies and equipment to Direct Relief for today’s shipment and said efforts to gather the shipment began Dec. 26.
“Johnson & Johnson has been incredible in response to [the tsunami,] telling us that, whatever we needed, they’re here for us,” Maxwell said. “FedEx then came forward and said, ‘Our resources are yours,’ and basically donating the use of a plane for us for this shipment. Our corporate and financial donors have been great.”
Since then approximately 100 volunteers have worked to prepare the packages for shipment, and 29 Direct Relief employees have averaged 17 hours per day to coordinate the shipment.
“The biggest thing is really just making sure we meet the needs lists and securing the logistic channels to deliver the aid,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell said this shipment and future packages, such as those being sent to India on Tuesday, will only contain medical supplies.
“There’s a lot of work to be done over there right now,” Maxwell said. “People are helping out by providing food, shelter and water to those who need it. We provide medical care – we know our piece and we’ve been doing it for a long time.”
William Zimdin and Dezso Karczag, two eastern European immigrants fleeing the destruction of World War II, founded Direct Relief in 1948. Maxwell said the organization received over $100 million in medical-related products last year from its donors.
The organization’s headquarters, located on La Patera Lane next to the Goleta Amtrak station, consists of an office complex and a large warehouse containing aisles of medical supplies shelved two to three stories high. Cases of Ibuprofen and first aid materials await packaging and shipment. Part of the warehouse floor space is reserved as a staging ground for shipment preparation where volunteers organize shipments for various aid recipients.
The Direct Relief headquarters is also replete with its own pharmacy, which allocated the prescription medicines donated by pharmaceutical companies to the various shipments.
Maxwell said that, on average, only 12 percent of these pharmaceuticals and supplies are sent to areas stricken with natural or civil disasters, such as Afghanistan. The remaining supplies provide ongoing assistance to areas in constant need of medical supplies, such as El Salvador, Mexico and Jamaica.
“It’s part of the benefit of the way our group works,” Maxwell said. “When a disaster strikes, there’s a chance we’ve been working in that country for years and that we’re familiar with the logistics of providing aid there. It makes it easier when it’s time to coordinate these shipments.”
Maxwell said she is concerned that public attention to the tsunami relief effort will lessen in upcoming weeks.
“The public response will eventually die down, but our work overseas isn’t short-term response,” Maxwell said. “We’re still going to be working in India. After these headlines fade, we’re going to be there because building a healthcare infrastructure isn’t something that can fade within one week.”
Anyone wishing to help in the disaster relief effort can make financial contributions to Direct Relief by visiting the organization’s Web site, www.directrelief.org.