Duke community rallies to support Hubei's struggling front-line medics | Duke Kunshan University

Duke community rallies to support Hubei's struggling front-line medics

February 21, 2020

Editor’s note: To help front-line doctors and nurses facing shortages of essential medical equipment in Hubei province, the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak in China, the Duke community has rallied to supply gloves, safety goggles and other protective gear through multiple fundraising campaigns. Hubei is home to Wuhan University, which co-founded Duke Kunshan in partnership with Duke. If you would like to support the Hubei relief efforts, you may wish to consider donating to the following organizations: Give2Asia, Direct Relief, and Project Hope.

Health professionals at Tongji Hospital of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan accept a delivery of quick-dry clothing arranged by Duke Kunshan students

By Lei Qi and Craig McIntosh
Staff writers

A team of Duke Kunshan University (DKU) students has supplied thousands of items of essential medical equipment to front-line doctors and nurses in Hubei province, the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak, after raising almost 400,000 RMB (US$57,000) in a crowdfunding campaign.

In addition to collecting donations, the undergraduate students vetted suppliers, connected with hospitals, and arranged deliveries of disinfectant, goggles and other products to the areas worst hit by the disease, including Wuhan.

The campaign, which began on Jan. 25, is among several projects launched by the Duke community to support medical professionals facing shortages of vital equipment in Hubei. In addition to raising funds and making donations, Duke students and alumni have been sourcing medical equipment in the United States to ship to China.

The city of Wuhan, where the outbreak originated, was placed in lockdown on Jan. 23 in an effort to contain the virus. As of Feb. 20, there were 74,677 confirmed cases, the vast majority in Hubei, with 16,277 recoveries and 2,121 deaths.

DKU sophomore Ru Jia, one of the leaders of the crowdfunding campaign, felt she needed to act after seeing appeals for help from doctors and nurses on the front line who are over-stretched and under-supplied. Images online showed medics using sticky tape to patch protective suits and plastic bags to cover their hands because of a shortage of gloves.

“Many classmates and I initially just donated money,” Jia said. “But we soon realized that Hubei needs medical supplies more than money. So we decided to come up with a campaign to send supplies directly to hospitals through crowdfunding.”

Jia and another 20 DKU students formed a group, with each receiving a specific task: fundraising, procurement, outreach or publicity.

Freshman student Yiyuan Qin handled procurement, which involved searching for vendors on e-commerce platforms and vetting them to ensure they had the right certifications, products and prices, and could deliver to cities in Hubei. Meanwhile, freshman Yuan Xu contacted the medical workers that had appealed for help in Wuhan, as well as neighboring Xiaogan and Huanggang, to find out their specific requirements.

Duke Kunshan sophomore Ru Jia formed a group with 20 other students to raise funds to send goggles and other protective equipment to hospitals in Hubei province

Along the way, the group received guidance from the DKU Education Development Foundation, which helped review the students’ proposal, connected them with various resources, and offered advice on communication and transparency.

Once preparations were complete, the students launched their crowdfunding campaign on Jan. 25. By the second day, they had received more than 110,000 RMB (US$15,750) in donations and had spent nearly 70,000 RMB (US$10,000) to buy protective goggles and disinfectant.

Thanks to the efforts of the outreach team, students from New York University Shanghai and Dulwich International High School Suzhou joined the initiative soon after.

As of Feb. 19, the crowdfunding project had raised 398,332 RMB (US$56,800), including 295,611 RMB (US$42,150) in donations through the DKU channel. This money has been used to deliver 2,050 pairs of protective goggles, 6.65 metric tons of disinfectant, 1,000 pieces of quick-dry clothing, 100 pairs of medical gloves, as well as daily necessities such as instant noodles and yogurt, to 12 hospitals in Hubei including Wuhan No. 5 Hospital and Tongji Hospital of Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

Lijuan Feng, a head nurse at Tongji Hospital and the parent of a DKU student, said she and her colleagues were especially grateful for the donation of quick-dry clothing.

“After a tough day, our clothes are sodden with sweat. To prevent the virus from spreading through the air, we have had to turn off our air conditioners. The quick-dry clothes help us reduce the risk of catching a cold or getting an infection,” said Feng, whose hospital has treated 799 Covid-19 patients since Feb. 13 and recently added 830 extra beds.

Xu said that a nurse at Wuhan No. 5 Hospital also told her that the hospital staff had been on the verge of despair because of the supply shortages, but after seeing the efforts of DKU’s students, they felt empowered to carry on.

“I realized at that moment just what our support really meant to these front-line medical workers. It was so encouraging,” Xu said.

Cheng Feng, Duke ’08 (MPP), secretary-general of the DKU Education Development Foundation, said she was impressed by how the group was able to launch a successful charitable project from scratch.

“The DKU students acted really quick and demonstrated great leadership potential,” Feng said. “They’re not afraid to take on challenges, and I believe they will be a force to make the world a better place.”


Team spirit overcomes obstacles

Students on Duke University’s Durham campus have explored a wide variety of ways to get essential supplies to Hubei hospitals. Li-Chen Chin, assistant vice president for intercultural programs in the Division of Student Affairs, said her office is providing guidance on the institutional and governmental issues involved in various projects.

Junyi Zhang, also known as Joyce, a Ph.D. candidate in immunology, joined a volunteer group that sourced some 400,000 protective suits in the U.S. after learning of the situation in Wuhan. The group has so far shipped over 280,000 suits to China for use by disease control and prevention workers in Hubei and Jiangsu province.

Getting the suits to China has been no easy feat. The group had to learn quickly about international trade, warehousing, logistics, charity management and protective apparel standards. To overcome any obstacles, Zhang enlisted the help of friends and fellow Duke alumni with expertise across various fields including medicine, law, investment and the media.

“Duke alumni share the core value of service to society. This value strengthened the trust among us and drove our efforts,” said real estate entrepreneur Wei Liu, a member of the Duke network in China who advised the volunteer group on operations.

A shipment of protective suits sourced by a volunteer group involving Duke students and alumni is loaded onto a flight bound for Hubei at Shanghai Pudong International Airport

Rui Huang, a public relations expert based in China who helped the group connect with hospitals and local relief organizations and provided communications advice, said she was impressed by the team spirit shown by the Duke alumni to ensure the protective suits were successfully delivered to China.

“Every conference call, work plan and task assignment was highly efficient,” she said. “When we saw the front-line medical workers receive the first batch of protective suits with tears in their eyes, it became so clear that speed is paramount right now.”

Rapid support

With the help of fellow Duke alumni, tech entrepreneur Jun Yan, Duke ’14 (MBA), was able to secure 100,000 RMB (US$15,750) to support the Hubei relief efforts in just under an hour.

On the morning of Jan. 25, Yan invited alumni in the investment, consulting and legal fields to discuss the impact and feasibility of a plan to buy essential medical supplies online from Chinese manufacturers and resellers and ship them to front-line medical workers in China.

At around 9 o’clock that night, the group posted an appeal and a pledge form in Great Duke, a WeChat account for members of the Duke alumni network in China. By 10pm, they had surpassed the pledge target. In the end, 58 members donated 106,152 RMB (US$15,190), including 50,000 RMB (US$7,150) from Zemin Hu, Duke ’04 (MBA), the founding partner of investment company MFund.

“Our intention was for the urgently needed medical supplies to be delivered to the medical workers as soon as possible. We didn't expect to reach the pledge goal within an hour,” Yan said. “After the donation drive was closed, many alumni still wanted to contribute, but we had to decline their kindness.”

Using the money, the Duke alumni were able to dispatch 4,900 pairs of safety goggles, 1,600 protective masks and 50,000 pairs of disposable medical gloves to 14 hospitals in Hubei.

“A doctor cried and sent us a message to express his thanks after receiving the supplies, which was so touching,” Yan said. “I hope our actions encourage the medical staff in Hubei. We want them to know they are supported by people everywhere.”