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Equipping the world


January 27, 2010 | dentalproductsreport.com Web Exclusive Equipping the world Organizations such as IMEC are helping move surplus equipment and supplies to countries in need.

January 27, 2010 | dentalproductsreport.com
Web Exclusive

Equipping the world

Organizations such as IMEC are helping move surplus equipment and supplies to countries in need.

by Noah Levine, Senior Editor

Medical suites at the IMEC warehouse, packed and ready for shipping.

Photo: courtesy of IMEC

Often it takes a tragedy such as the recent catastrophic earthquake in Haiti to turn the world’s attention to people and places in great need of assistance. But a true tragedy is the fact that those needs often exist long before natural disaster strikes and will continue long after the shock has worn off and the world turns its attention elsewhere.

Still, there are people who dedicate their lives to helping less fortunate and less prosperous parts of the globe even when those places are not generating banner headlines, and often assisting those people and their mission is easier than you might think. Dental supplies and equipment are often in demand around the globe, and while there can be logistical hurdles to overcome, donating unused, surplus or recently replaced items from your practice to organizations such as International Medical Equipment Collaborative (IMEC) is an easy way to help out.

Donation weigh station

Based in Massachusetts, IMEC collects donated equipment and supplies and then works with “shepherding organizations” to send the items to hospitals and clinics in need, said product donations coordinator Dan DiBurro. Items come in from a variety of sources and IMEC’s volunteers collect them into what they call “Medical Suites” that contain all the equipment, furniture and supplies needed to set up a part of a hospital such as an operating room or a dental clinic in the destination country.

How to give

Anyone interested in donating items to IMEC is encouraged to contact the organization via email at donation@imecamerica.org to discuss the logistics.

“We bring it all in and sort it out by its different type of product, and a lot of it’s medical and some of it is dental,” DiBurro said. “We work with hospitals and long term care facilities and a little bit from manufacturers and distributors, but not as much as we’d like.”

When IMEC has a delivery ready it usually consists of 20 suites that are all loaded into a 40-foot shipping container and then sent via boat to the destination country. The shepherding organizations are the groups that actually find the hospital or clinic which will be receiving the donations, and usually help implement the set up once the shipment arrives, but DiBurro said IMEC makes sure everything not only arrives in the right port, but gets to the hospital or clinic as planned.

IMEC never charges the destination country for the supplies or the shipping, but it does ask the shepherding organizations to help cover some overhead and shipping costs. To keep those costs as low as possible, IMEC is mostly staffed by volunteers who dedicate their time to overhauling donated equipment and preparing the suites for their voyages.

Dental suites

While most of the suites IMEC packs and ships are medical in nature, dental suites are a regular part of their operations, and they are almost always looking for everything from dental chairs and lights, to handpieces, x-ray systems, hand instruments and sterilizers. While dental items are welcomed, volunteer David Paltinavich said IMEC currently has a surplus of dental chairs and never really needs certain high tech items such as lasers or panoramic x-ray systems.

“A lot of the places the equipment goes to, I’ve seen pictures, it’s just basic bare bones dentistry,” he said. “They don’t need a lot of high tech equipment per se.”

Still, they do need all manner of conventional dental technology, and everything that is donated is checked out to make sure it is in good working shape before it is shipped. A longtime biomedical equipment technician who sells and services dental equipment, Paltinavich has been repairing dental equipment as a volunteer for IMEC for about 13 years.


Most of what he does is to give fully working items an overhaul because IMEC tries to only accept items that are in good working order. However, sometimes if equipment is donated with a large batch of other goods, the organization will take on non-working items and find a way to put them to good use.

“We prefer not to take anything in need of repair, because funding isn’t there to buy the replacement parts,” Paltinavich said. “Some of the big stuff that people want to donate, it’s not really anything that we’d be interested in, but we hate to refuse a donation if it’s got a lot of other materials and equipment to go along with it. In those cases I cannibalize from one unit to another to get something that is in complete operational condition.”

The donation process

“A lot of the places the equipment goes to, I’ve seen pictures, it’s just basic bare bones dentistry. They don’t need a lot of high tech equipment per se.”

-David Paltinavich, IMEC volunteer

While IMEC is always looking for donations, they find it more difficult to bring in dental items because of the sheer size and weight of the items. Except in rare cases the organization cannot afford to fund the shipping of items to its warehouse, so DiBurro said the person or organization making the donation must provide shipping.

This often limits donations to areas close to IMEC’s New England headquarters. Paltinavich said when an exceptional dental offer comes in and the organization’s single truck is available he will personally visit the donor to disassemble and pack the items for transit. In other cases, donors have taken it upon themselves to bring their items to IMEC’s warehouse.

“Occasionally we find someone who will go to great distance and U-Haul it themselves,” DiBurro said.

While the cost of shipping might discourage some donations, DiBurro said IMEC tries to be as flexible and accepting as funding allows. The organization would love to make better connections with dental manufacturers who could provide discontinued but usable items, or factory seconds with cosmetic defects that make them unusable in the U.S. but do nothing to diminish their value to third world clinics. Even donations of small quantities of homecare supplies can be used as IMEC tries to provide small items like that to the staff of the hospitals receiving the medical suites.

“A lot of the doctors and nurses that we’re sending stuff to, they’re poor too,” he said. “We make little goodie bags for them.”

The logistics of shipping heavy equipment to underprivileged parts of the world can be daunting, but organizations such as IMEC help make it easier. If dentists with extra supplies and equipment can just get their items to them, the volunteers at IMEC will get them to the needy people around the globe.

Noah Levine is a senior editor for DPR. Contact him at nlevine@advanstar.com.

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