Photograph by Marc Latzel. Rolex Awards
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Dr. William Rosenblatt has helped channel tons of unused surgical supplies to the developing world since 1991.

Photograph by Marc Latzel. Rolex Awards

Finding a Home for Unused Medical Supplies

Anesthesiologist William Rosenblatt organized a U.S.-based program to repurpose medical supplies headed for the garbage.

Early in his medical career, William Rosenblatt spent time volunteering on Latin American relief missions, where he saw financially strapped hospitals frequently reuse and repurpose operating room supplies.

After returning to the U.S., the anesthesiologist quickly realized that there was a potential treasure trove in the unused medical supplies routinely discarded in hospital operating rooms, including surgical gloves, syringes, sutures, gauze bandages, surgical gowns, and other items prepared for medical procedures but discarded due to legal concerns and Food and Drug Administration regulations.

“I started asking nurses to collect stuff for hospitals in the developing world,’’ Rosenblatt says. “It soon occurred to me that we could do this in every operating room—the same supplies that were constantly being reused overseas were [here] being thrown out without ever being used.”

To channel supplies to the developing world, Rosenblatt developed REMEDY (Recovered Medical Equipment for the Developing World) in 1991—one of the first nonprofits designed to collect and distribute medical supplies and equipment to poor countries. It eventually grew from Yale-New Haven Hospital into a network of over 600 donating hospitals and a broad-based collection and distribution network. It also spawned Med-EQ, an Internet-based medical equipment donation agency that connects donor families, hospitals, and manufacturers to more than 900 charitable and nonprofit organizations.

Individual caretakers can also donate medical equipment and supplies through Med-EQ. “When a patient dies, caretakers are often left with equipment that can be extremely useful,’’ says Rosenblatt. “Med-EQ provides a way to donate.”

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Surplus medical items that go unused are often discarded by U.S. hospitals due to legal risks or federal regulations.

Rosenblatt, who received a Rolex Award for Enterprise for REMEDY, says the concept has broadened to thousands of hospitals. He’s since developed a teaching guide that standardizes the REMEDY collection model.

A quarter century after founding REMEDY, Rosenblatt, now 57, remains frustrated over the perfectly useable medical equipment and supplies that are still routinely discarded.

"There's a tremendous amount of material that can be funneled elsewhere,'' he says.

National Geographic produced this content as part of a partnership with the Rolex Awards for Enterprise.