by JOHN O'KEEFFE
A MONG the many. distractions that are the lot of the average doctor is the continual stream of promotional mail and samples pouring into surgeries daily from the drug and medical instrument manufacturers. Many of them are just thrown away. However, groups of missionminded doctors throughout the country are persuading their colleagues to save these samples and send them where they can do most good — to . the mission hospitals. The Catholic M ed leaf Mission. which has separated itself from the Catholic doctors Guild of Ss. Luke. Cosmas and Damian. purely to take advantage cif the complex legislation governing charities, is one such group.
Its three main aims are to collect and forward drugs through the War on Want. organisation to the needy. to send serviceable medical equipment out to the missions through the offices of the interdenominational Joint Medical Mission and to arrange for doctors to serve in the mission field.
The headquarters of this latter and larger organisation. sited in a Bermondsey backstreet. is not the most promising of settings. for one of the most imaginative, practical and ecumenical schemes for mobilising what would be otherwise wasted resources for the relief of suffering ever to have made the headlines.
Behind the drab walls surrounding the former Salvation Army Social centre in Spa Road the small handful of permanent staff of the Joint Mission Hospital Equipment Board help to move mountains of equipment out to far flung missions in most parts' of the undeveloped world.
The organisation serves a broad theological spectrum of some 20 missionary bodies and relief agencies ranging from the evangelical Moravian Missions. Presbyterians and Baptists to the Anglican Church Missionary Society and the Catholic Medical Missionary Society. Oxfam also participates.
Since 1967 the Board has been recognised by the Ministry of Health as an agency to co-ordinate medical equipment for overseas mission hospitals. It also helps needy hopitals. medical and nursing teams in the emerging countries. As hospital equipment in this country becomes more advanced great quantities of quite serviceable equipment come on the market and can be sent overseas through the Joint Medical Mission Board at a fraction of the cost of using the normal commercial channels.
Goods bought or donated are carefully checked and serviced by professionally trained staff before despatch. The size of the items dealt with can range from miniscule catgut needles to bedpans, tweezers, howls, beds. cots, suction and anaesthetic apparatus, physio therapy appliances. and laboratory equipment to X-ray apparatus.
The Joint Medical Mission Board started as the brainchild of a Baptist ex-medical missionary, Dr. James Burton, who, in tours of duty saw at first hand just how ill-equipped even the most advanced
hospitals were compared with their Western counterparts. While travelling around Britain later as medical director of the Baptist Missionary Society he realised that much of the equipment rendered obsolete by technical advances in this country was of no commercial value except as scrap.
"Why not," he thought. "set up a type of Missionary Ministry of Supply?" This could co-ordinate medical missionary requirements. He passed on the idea to the Conference of British Missionary Societies and in 1966 seventeen of them agreed to support the plan for at least two years. Oxfam and Christian Aid also lent their support. Dr. Burton became medical director and Colonel Reginald Bovan, a lifelong Salvationist who had served for many years as a professional hospital secretary in a Salvation Army hospital, became full-time administrator.
By the time the Joint Medical Mission opened its doors in November 1966 circularising all the various mission hospitals concerned, they produced a shopping list of over 100,000 items.
Once having been scrutinised and approved by the Ministry of Health the J.M.M.B., supported by a circular approving its activities by the Ministry's Director of Supply. was soon acquiring a flow of equipment at economic prices. Service and reconditioning contracts were
speedily negotiated with specialist firms. The link-up with the Catholic body came about, like so many significant events. with all the appearances of an accident. A Catholic doctor in a moment of boredom picked up a magazine dealing with the work of the J.M.M.B. This sounded like a good idea. When a Catholic woman doctor went along to see Colonel Bovan to find out more details it transpired they were old friends as she had served part of her first year in medicine at the hospital where he had been secretary. In 1968 the merger became reality. Since that time a substantial amount of effort and resources
of the Joint Medical Missionary Board has gone into assisting the Catholic missions. This, is the rub, however; although there are at least 1.600 Catholic doctors in the country only 30 are significantly supporting the Catholic Medical Missionary Society through a covenanted subscription scheme. As the J.M.M.B. will need £40,000 to change its cramped headquarters for larger ones the Catholic society feels that the medical section of the Catholic community could make a more realistic contribution through money, drugs and materials than it has done.
Accordingly, it has prepared some 1,600 leaflets which will be sent to doctors known to be Catholics. asking for their support. In view of the ecumenical
scope and practical humanitarianism of the Joint Medical Missionary Board and the substantial help it renders to Catholic Missions it would be a pity if the Catholic community in this country should be seen as in other things lagging behind.
The Catholic Medical Missionary Society secretary, Dr. Steven Nichol. of 381 London Road South, Lowestoft, is only too anxious to pass on details to his colleagues as to how they can put time, cash, samples and obsolete equipment to good use.