Tomas Tesfasilassie was visiting relatives in the small African nation of Eritrea in 2014 when his uncle had a sudden life-threatening stroke. Sadly, the lack of basic medical equipment in the region meant that a condition routinely treated in America resulted in his death.
This tragic event has impelled Tomas to found the nonprofit Supply the Change, which aims to distribute donated and surplus resources to disadvantaged medical clinics across the world.
Tesfasilassie became aware of the massive amounts of supplies thrown out every day in a hospital as a third year medical student at UCSF. Much of the extra equipment from surgeries or standard practice are trashed due to the institution’s healthcare guidelines or lack of storage. This waste resonated with him, leading him to ask, “Why are people [overseas] dying of issues that are very manageable in America?”
Finding no acceptable answer, he began the process of establishing Supply the Change. Tesfasilassie and his board of six volunteers have formed connections across the Bay Area, gathering medical donations from institutions such as UCSF and Sutter Health as well as individuals.
Despite its foundation just four months ago, the nonprofit has already gathered nearly 20 pallets of supplies worth more than $2.3 million.
“When I first started this I didn’t imagine it would grow so big so quickly. I thought I would first ship a couple boxes or take some stuff with me in my luggage,” Tesfasilassie said.
Tesfasilassie will be traveling to facilitate the distribution of the donations in May during a three-month sabbatical from medical school. His nonprofit has already coordinated with the Eritrean embassy and ministry of health to identify the neediest regions of the nation. Catalogs are being created tracking which resources are most lacking in each hospital. Donations will help alleviate the most desperate needs.
Tesfasilassie emphasized that monetary donations are currently the best way to contribute to the cause.
“We got supplies very quickly, but now we are running into the issue of shipment and storage costs.”
However, any additional connections to hospitals or programs which recycle materials would further their mission as it grows. Beyond aiding Eritrea, Supply the Change intends to add another target recipient for their efforts every five years.
At each destination, Supply the Change wants to create a lasting relationship. Their goal is to create an established infrastructure so that they can continue to send medical equipment for years to come and not have to be present themselves for its distribution.
Tesfasilassie hopes that all these efforts will make a real difference for people like his uncle and their loved ones.
“The heart of all this is to make healthcare equal for all. I believe that your socioeconomic status should not dictate what kind of care you get,” he said. “We’re trying to help people around the world get the care they need and make sure supplies in these places are not the limiting factor.”
Get in touch with Supply the Change at supplythechange.org or by emailing the board at firstname.lastname@example.org.