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On the eve of a medical volunteer trip to the southeast African country of Malawi, Dr. Karim Taha wasn't sure if the few dozen blood pressure machines flying with him would have an impact on patient care.
But when he arrived at the country's biggest government-run hospital in Blantyre – Malawi's second-largest city – serving a population larger than the Greater Toronto Area, it was clear the equipment would be of great use.
"What seemed like a small donation ended up making a huge difference," says Dr. Taha.
Dr. Taha, a cardiology fellow at the University of Toronto, has always had an interest in global health and international health promotion. Since graduating medical school, he's been training at Toronto General Hospital and the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC), working closely with Dr. Heather Ross on PMCC's Digital Cardiovascular Health Platform.
With years of medical training under his belt, Dr. Taha felt the time was right for him to go and contribute what he had learned. Visiting with another cardiologist who frequently volunteers in Malawi, they flew over with blood pressure machines, sugar testing kits, stethoscopes and other equipment.
The team set up a cardiology provision service at the hospital, performing echocardiography and electrocardiograms (ECGs) when possible on patients who were referred from around the city. They also taught internal medicine and cardiology to medical students, nurses, residents, and medical trainees.
But the resources brought by Dr. Taha would make a lasting difference, continuing long after the doctors came back to Canada. When the team distributed the equipment to hospital staff, Dr. Taha describes their reaction as amazing – staff were incredibly grateful and thankful for the donation.
Dr. Taha helped teach the healthcare professionals how to operate the equipment and bought reusable batteries to ensure machinery was always charged. He also distributed the blood pressure machines and other equipment in small increments, ensuring staff felt comfortable using the new tools and to safeguard them from being stolen.
The equipment, which was donated by Dr. Ross, her research teams, and other individuals at both the UHN and St. Michael's Hospital, was put to great use.
"These resources were no longer used here," says Dr. Taha. "Now, it is part of patient care in Malawi.
"Equipment we no longer use can make a huge difference elsewhere in the world."
Back home in Canada, Dr. Taha is hoping to raise awareness about the need for equipment in underdeveloped countries, the impact donations can have and how clinicians can help by volunteering.
"We are fortunate to have as many resources as we do, and we should consider donating what we no longer use instead – if no one is using it, no one can benefit from it," says Dr. Taha. "There is also ample opportunity for doctors, nurses and health professionals to make a difference abroad with their expertise."
For more information, visit the website of the non-profit organization Mtima, which means "heart" in Chichewa, the main language of Malawi. People interested in donating medical equipment can contact