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Yezarni Wynn, one of the founders of the student-led initiative collecting personal protective equipment for health care workers at local hospitals and long-term care homes.
Photo courtesy of @PPEforHCPs_TO
Health

Medical Students Are Using Social Media to Get Protective Gear to COVID-19 Health Workers

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Medical students are in a precarious situation during the COVID-19 pandemic: they’re equipped with much of the knowledge to help on the frontlines, but fall short of having enough tactical experience to graduate and be enlisted to help.

That hasn’t stopped a group of Ontario medical students from finding a way to contribute to the fight against COVID-19. Instead of acting as the ones putting on the personal protective equipment (PPE), they’re now the ones collecting it.

Understanding the indispensable value — and now dire need — for PPE, medical students from the University of Toronto, Western University, and the University of Ottawa sprung into action to create PPE for HCPs Toronto: Protecting our Healthcare Workers, an initiative that’s calling on the public to support health care workers on the frontlines grappling with equipment shortages.

The need is grave, as provincial leaders and health officials have warned that supplies are strained and depleted, with frontline workers forced to ration one or two masks per shift. Officials fear that they will have exhausted the current stockpile by the end of the week at the current rate. 

As the world's economies and connections have shifted to work online, this initiative was no exception. It consists of a team of seven students — who did not even know each other before launching the campaign. The entire project was born, and is now managed, via social media. Yezarni Wynn, Thulasie Manokaran, Ali Goodbaum, Mia Kibel, Rida Tal-Zahra, Sophie Duong, and Calvin Diep now lead a group of nearly 800 volunteers on Facebook across 45 communities in Ontario. Among the growing group of volunteers are future nurses, undergraduate aspiring medical school students, and community members that are eager to help. 

The team coordinates online with local businesses — often ones that have closed or eased operations amid the pandemic — and families who have a surplus of PPE, essential for frontline workers.

"Initially, we thought people would be apprehensive to donating or going out and collecting the equipment, but we haven’t found that to be the case. People have been itching to give back," Wynn, one of the initiative’s co-founders, told Global Citizen.  

Manokaran, who founded the initiative alongside Wynn, added, "We had one simple idea: to get resources that would have been sitting unused in the community into hospitals. I’m proud to help facilitate that."

Since the initiative's inception just two weeks ago, the group has amassed a growing stockpile of more than 100,000 gloves and over 7,000 masks, among other critical supplies.

The students partnered with Ontario Health, the Ontario Medical Student Association, and individual hospitals to ensure that their donations are being strategically sent to strained frontlines, as well as long-term care homes with pressing needs, where the majority of Canada’s COVID-19 fatalities reside.

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The team knows their current model has finite mileage, as there are only so much remaining PPE that they can collect and donate. Goodbaum is leading the initiative’s fundraising efforts and looking beyond the short-term supply, calling for donations as they’ve partnered with a supplier to manufacture PPE for the long fight ahead. 

While medical students in the US have been called to the frontlines and had their graduation dates pushed forward, such measures have yet to be taken in Canada. As the virus continues its spread and Canadians brace for an impending peak, these future doctors are still finding ways to help.

To help the cause and equip Ontario’s frontline workers with life-saving equipment, visit: https://ppeforhcpsto.ca/

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