Uganda hospitals receive much-needed COVID-19 supplies from Seattle area

Donation of personal protective equipment from Fred Hutch, local community aids health workers in hard-hit country
photo of a man in a white medical coat inspecting a large pile of cardboard boxes
Dr. Nixon Niyonzima, Uganda Cancer Institute director for laboratory and research, inspects the boxes of personal protective equipment shipped to the cancer institute from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Photo courtesy of the Uganda Cancer Institute

As vaccination rates reached 70% of adults in Washington state and give hope the pandemic will ebb in the area, a half-ton of hospital supplies from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center were air-shipped to Uganda, where COVID-19 is raging. The shipment that arrived this month is the most recent in a series from the Hutch to the Uganda Cancer Institute, an institution with which Fred Hutch has had a 13-year collaboration. It included face shields, medical gowns, disinfectant wipes, masks, goggles and more.

“We regularly send pallets to Kampala,” said Andrea Towlerton, acting laboratory director for UCI-Fred Hutch, who organizes the shipments. Often the pallets contain laboratory supplies, dry reagents and, periodically, equipment like centrifuges for research.

This summer’s shipment of more than 10,000 pieces of personal protective equipment “will help protect health care workers and staff as they manage patients at the Uganda Cancer Institute,” Towlerton said.

Vaccination rates are low in Uganda, and many patients being treated for cancer at UCI-Fred Hutch Cancer Centre in Kampala have active coronavirus infections. Thus, the supplies are critical, the institute wrote on Twitter.

Tweet from the Uganda Cancer Institute on July 15, 2021 that reads: "“This donation will enable  @UgandaCancerIns  medical personnel to take care of patients safely & efficiently as well as offset some of costs of acquiring PPE & medical supplies needed during this difficult time.”UCI-Fredhutch rep.   @fredhutch   @JacksonOrem   @nniyonzima" . Includes photo of several people in masks with PPE items
Front row, from left: Dr. Nixon Niyonzima, Jacqueline Asea, Dr. Jackson Orem. Back row, left: Susan Watera, Andrew Okot Click to view on Twitter

A community effort

Piggybacked onto the Fred Hutch shipment were a cache of nearly 1,000 unused, volunteer-made cotton masks, as well as other personal protective equipment from Bainbridge Island, west of Seattle on Puget Sound. These supplies were sent on from Kampala to St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor in Gulu, a city in the nation’s remote northern region.

Fred Hutch has no formal relationship with Lacor; rather, that transfer was organized by Dr. Linda Warren — a pediatrician who lives on the island and had previously taught at Lacor for a year — working with her physician-scientist husband, Dr. Hootie Warren, who is head of Global Oncology for Fred Hutch.

“It is an incredible volunteer community that wanted to find a good place for the things they didn’t need,” said Linda Warren about the network of individuals and organizations on Bainbridge who made the island’s donations possible.

“It’s a small world,” said Hootie Warren. “Nowhere is far away.”

Fred Hutch News Service writer Sabin Russell contributed reporting for this story.

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