Save space, save time, stop theft, and hit your CSI targets while outsourcing your donations.
The issue of old medical equipment ending up in landfills is a very real problem in SA. One that local geologist, Jan Derksen believes he’s found the key to solving.
After obtaining an Honours degree in Geology from the University of Stellenbosch, Derksen moved to Tanzania to work in remote locations on geological exploration projects. It was while living with rural communities that he grew to understand and appreciate the universal benefit of repurposing and the detrimental effect of dumping on the environment. His belief in a system of refurbishment and donation to promote the South African social and environmental wellbeing prompted him to co-found MediMerchant in 2012 with a friend, Jean LeGrange, now living in Holland.
“Living in a small town called Njombe in the southwestern corner of Tanzania I started to realise the needs of the community. They would get donations from places like Denmark, Belgium, and everywhere, but a container arrives and it’s full of computer printers or something like that. There was a huge disconnect between the beneficiary and the donor. That’s how the idea started; how do we bridge that gap?” Derksen explained.
While still living in Tanzania, on a visit to SA, Derksen met with the head of the technical team of one of SA’s largest hospital groups to get a better understanding of what the hospitals did with their old equipment. It was here that he discovered they disposed of old hospital and medical equipment by destroying it. “They just put a pickaxe through everything, like a sonar machine, an ultrasound machine, they just demolish everything.” Derksen proceeded to visit all the big hospital groups and discovered that’s what was happening to all the medical equipment in SA.
The reason they weren’t donating old equipment is they simply weren’t set up to do so. “And that’s where we come in,” said Derksen. “MediMerchant collects everything directly from the hospital and as things are removed: dustbins, beds, X-ray machines, carpets, cameras, everything goes onto a database and then from there we can match equipment with beneficiaries and start donating.
Having started out with just five hospitals, MediMerchant now collects from almost 150 hospitals. “Everything we collect goes to our central distribution warehouse in Johannesburg, then gets donated from there. Some of it needs refurbishment before it gets donated,” said Derksen. “We’ve signed up almost 200 beneficiaries now and checked that they’ve got the right credentials, that they’re in SA, and that they’re legitimate,” he said.
“These people are poorer than we think they are, usually the beneficiaries don’t even have the resources to pay for the fuel to get a truck to fetch free hospital beds, so we take care of all of that. Often, it’s a creche where someone’s looking after 20 babies, or an old age home.”
Boasting a transparent system, Derksen said that donors can see exactly where all the donations go. “Each donation comes with a donation certificate,” explained Derksen. “Every time we do a donation it has to be valued and accurate.”
WHY YOU SHOULD DONATE OLD EQUIPMENT
SAVE SPACE: “Medical devices and equipment that get written off take up space, they land up filling basements, storerooms, and parking lots,” said Derksen. “Eventually the technical manager has to make a plan and he usually just gets the closest scrap guy, and everything ends up
in a landfill.”
STOP THEFT: When the hospital writes off equipment they don’t want to deal with issues of theft. “For example, when they write off a lawnmower, what happens to it, does someone land up taking it home or selling it for R200? Hospitals get the benefit of closing that gap so people can’t steal anymore because the lawnmower comes off their asset register into our system and onto our database,” explained Derksen. “Furthermore, if technical staff know that a third party takes all equipment that’s been written off, then staff are not going to be incentivised to write equipment off unnecessarily when it can be fixed.”
SAVE TIME: “Technical staff should spend their time fixing machines that fix people,” said Derksen. “Not on organising a bakkie to take donations to a charity or finding a scrap metal contractor to process the old equipment.”
ACHIEVE CSI GOALS: The hospital gets a valuation certificate for every donation they make. “At the end of the year, they give all those certificates to the auditors and that adds towards their CSI for the year,” Derksen explained. “We take the burden away from the hospital of having to do their own donations. We do everything. We do the collection, the removal certificate, the donation certificate, the refurbishment. We find a suitable beneficiary to donate to, and then if 10 beds are donated to an old age home and they call two days later to say one of the wheels is coming off, the hospital doesn’t have to go and fix that wheel. We take care of it. We take 100% liability.”
HOW IT’S ALL PAID FOR
Not everything collected from hospitals is donatable. “I can’t donate an eye laser machine to a charity in Tembisa,” said Derksen. “That gets taken apart, or as is, and I export it to where there’s a company that buys parts and refurbishes high end laser machines. The goal is to make sure that instead of going to a landfill, it goes to somewhere that has the capability to refurbish it or reuse the parts.
“With the Rand declining, it's become very expensive for small clinics and doctors in rural areas to buy new equipment. We've got a big showroom with very good coffee.” Describing it as a Cash Converters for doctors, Derksen said: “We want to
create a hub for people to share knowledge, share ideas, drink coffee, and shop for refurbished equipment.”
CALLING THOSE IN PRIVATE PRACTICE
But Derksen has his eye on those in smaller practices too. “You don’t have to waste time trying to sell old equipment. For smaller practices with old machines for sale it’s as simple as sending pictures on WhatsApp, I’ll make you a cash offer, and I’ll collect the machine.”
Constantly expanding its capacity, MediMerchant can do some refurbishing at their warehouse in Johannesburg. “We can refurbish defibrillators, patient monitors, ventilators, ultrasound machines, rigid scopes, and endoscopic machines. Furthermore, we've just refurbished a part of our warehouse and we're going to be putting in a specialist on refurbishment of C-Arm (an X-ray machine), MR scanners, and CT scanners for the African market,” said Derksen.
“We take liability on these machines and refurbish them to the highest standard so they can go back into the market. In the old days these things were just scrapped and would go to landfills, now they will work for another ten years. We export to about 35 countries now, mostly in Africa and some goes into Europe and America. South America takes a lot of machines too.
The more equipment MediMerchant can refurbish in SA, the more desperately needed equipment they can offer to doctors in Africa, at prices they can afford.