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Medical missions patient safety is nonprofit’s aim

TAYLORS, S.C. (BP) — While medical missions typically brings to mind images of impoverished people receiving medical treatment, a doctor and pharmacist are aiming to take it to the next level by bringing patient safety more clearly into the picture.

Francis Nuthalapathy, a maternal-fetal medicine physician who is president of the nonprofit organization Omer Medical Logistics, said the idea originated with Roger Blackwell, a pharmacist and vice president of operations for the ministry.

Blackwell met someone who wanted to donate medications left over from a mission trip to another group. The problem was that the drugs were unlabeled, with no expiration dates or patient-advisory information.

That awoke a concern about patient safety: How does one give 30 pills to someone who speaks another language and explain how to take the medication and understand the possible side effects? “We need to really focus on patient safety,” Nuthalapathy said of the idea that hasn’t yet penetrated medical missions.

The Omer cofounders are members of Brushy Creek Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C. Pastor Ralph Carter describes Nuthalapathy and Blackwell as having “a real heart for medical missions.”

In its first phase, Omer Logistics began offering a vitamin repackaging service last summer. Patient-dose packages are labeled in the native language with pictographs for non-readers.

Volunteers gather once a month at the group’s repackaging room in Greenville, S.C., to put together the packets. Since August 2015, they have sent out about half a million vitamins to 10 countries with instructions in six languages.

Nuthalapathy said they are able to purchase the vitamins at a discount, and, even after adding a small surcharge to help fund the organization, they are still able to offer the vitamins for far less than retail. The next goal is to offer over-the-counter medications.

The startup was funded in 2013 when the National Christian Foundation provided a $125,000 grant to match the $125,000 the two men had raised for the first phase of the initiative. “We plan to make it a self-sustaining organization,” Nuthalapathy said.

In the future, Omer Logistics plans to offer additional services, such as putting together medic packs and purchasing expensive equipment that medical missions teams can use.

Nuthalapathy and Blackwell also want to put technology and database systems in place so that missions volunteers will have access to critical information about the areas they will be visiting.

“The main goal is that we want to make it easier for evangelical outreach to occur,” Nuthalapathy said.

According to the organization’s website, the name for the group comes from Exodus 16, where God provided manna and taught the people how to be good stewards of the gift by each taking a share, an omer, of the manna.

“This example of stewardship is at the heart of Omer Medical Logistics,” the website states. “We fulfill our purpose by helping medical missions teams gather and use exactly what is needed for each medical outreach.”

Nuthalapathy said an “unbelievable” amount of red tape was involved in launching Omer because of the FDA documentation and paperwork required.

“If we knew how much work it would be, I don’t know if we would have done it. Sometimes our naiveté works in God’s favor,” he said.

Jeff Palmer, executive director of the Baptist Global Response humanitarian organization, said, “It is exciting to see the launch of grassroots organizations like this one with a heart for helping people and sharing the love of Christ. It is especially encouraging to see the emerging of medical and health care mission organizations with a growing sense of awareness of the good and potential bad that can happen with improper medical processes and practices overseas.

“Medical, dental and health care missions is a growing interest in our churches. There are acceptable medical and health care practices here in the U.S. and those same standards should be held when we send out our teams to work cross-culturally. I’m happy to see an organization like this one forming and hopefully leading others to good, sound medical health care mission strategies and practices.”

For more information about Omer Medical Logistics, visit www.omerlogistics.org.

    About the Author

  • Laura Campbell

    Laura Campbell is a contributing writer to the Baptist Courier (baptistcourier.com), newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston contributed to this article.

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