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Music mixer promotes health efforts abroad

The MED organization recruited and informed students at a karaoke event

The sounds of karaoke and laughter filled Kasper Multipurpose Room Friday as students and faculty members gathered for “Heart Beats,” a mixer to promote Medical Equipment Donations International’s efforts in Zanzibar.

The event was a “musical extravaganza” that sought to raise awareness about MED’s presence on campus, said co-executive director Han Sheng Chia ’14.

MED’s primary mission is to make more medical technology available in Zanzibar, an archipelago located outside of Tanzania, Chia said. The group trains local hospital repair technicians, creates software to manage hospital equipment and organizes donation shipments when medical machinery is unavailable. MED’s goal is to ultimately “make Zanzibar more self-sufficient, because they can manage the technology,” Chia said.

“By the end of this year, we want people to learn that the impact we’ve made on the ground is reproducible — that it can and should be used in other hospitals with equipment access problems,” co-director Jayson Marwaha ’14 wrote in an email to The Herald.

Around 30 percent of medical equipment in Zanzibar is broken, Chia said at the event. When he visited a hospital in Zanzibar last summer, only a quarter of the newborn ICU incubators functioned properly, which contributed to an 80 percent mortality rate, he said. In one week, MED fixed all of the incubators for only $25, Chia said.

Friday night’s mixer included a presentation by Chia and a video recap of MED’s founder and Marwaha’s spring visit to Zanzibar. MED team members Kasey Haas ’13 and Cade Howard ’14 emceed the talent portion of the night. The event also featured performances by the Bear Necessities and multiple professors, including Barrett Hazeltine, adjunct professor of engineering, and Lecturer in Biology Richard Bungiro.

MED created software last fall that will manage and track the status of hospital machinery. The organization has been working closely with Zanzibar’s Ministry of Health, which gave the new software very positive feedback, said MED’s development director Yao Liu ’15.

While American hospitals “pay big bucks” for this type of software, MED hired a Brown computer science concentrator to create their own software for only $500, Chia said. MED plans to sell the software in the United States to increase the organization’s spending power, he said. MED is funded by community donations, the Swearer Center and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

This month MED hired Kevin McCracken as a full-time biomedical engineer, and he will live in Zanzibar and train the Ministry of Health’s medical technicians. McCracken and his team have repaired $50,000 worth of equipment for only $75, Chia said.

Mike Koster, assistant professor of pediatrics at Alpert Medical School, started off Friday night’s mixer with an energetic performance of “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” a song accompanied by backup dancing from the Bear Necessities and originally performed Def Leppard.

Bungiro followed with a serenade of “Afternoon Delight.” “If you don’t think this is the best version of this song,” Bungiro told the crowd at the event, “I will fight you.”

Howard said he chose Bungiro for his reputation. “I’d heard rumors of his singing in class, so I identified him as a likely candidate,” Howard said.

Alan Harlam, director of social entrepreneurship at the Swearer Center, and Hazeltine sang “Sweet Caroline,” a crowd favorite. “There isn’t anything that I wouldn’t do for MED, and I guess I got called out on that promise,” Harlam told The Herald.

“We should have practiced,” Hazeltine said to Harlam as the music began. The audience cheered back the chorus as Harlam and Hazeltine sang.

Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy Bill Allen ended the night with a heartwarming rendition of “Dancing Queen.” Before he sang, Allen praised MED’s progress and dedication. “This experience has enriched me as a person and as their teacher,” he told the crowd.

MED also used the event as a recruiting process to make a “solid base” of team members and supporters on campus, Seth Akers-Campbell ’14 said.

Chia said the organization is always looking for more members, especially those with skills in engineering, computer technology and finance.

The organization has made a lot of progress since its formation last year, though MED does not plan on sending any more medical donations soon, Chia said. “We have the philosophy of working with what’s already there and maximizing the resources that’s on the ground,” he said.

“The philosophy behind (MED) is the right philosophy,” said Associate Professor of Anthropology Daniel Smith, who said he attended the mixer to show his support. Smith teaches ANTH 0300: “Culture and Health” and praised MED for its prioritization of repairing existing parts above donating new ones, which can create cycles of dependence.

“It’s naive to think that just handing people equipment without all the things that make it work will be successful,” Hazeltine said.

MED’s co-directors “are really special … they’re incredibly ambitious but ultimately very humble and thorough,” Harlam said. Members of the MED team have extensively researched their approach and have become experts on medical technology maintenance in Zanzibar, Harlam said.

Chia said MED will reevaluate and decide if they will expand, downsize or cancel the program this August. The organization hopes to move beyond its first three pilot hospitals and serve all 10 hospitals in Zanzibar, he said.

“They’ve always been on a great trajectory,” Harlam said.



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