Tarnished American Philanthropy in China
By LARRY ROMANOFF
CHINESE ARCHIVE/ 中文档案
According to Chinese state authorities, Ron Brown of the AGAPE Foundation of Peachtree City, Georgia, traveled to Wuhan in late 2004 and signed a contract with several domestic charitable organisations in China to provide 2 million RMB each year of medical supplies and materials, in part to assist with cardiac surgery and treatments, but the overall purpose was stated as being “to improve the lives of orphans and the lonely elderly”. So far, so good.
Some time after the signing of this agreement, AGAPE shipped its first ‘donation’ of medical devices to Shaoyang City in Hunan. I happened to be in Shanghai at the time and was watching a TV news program which included a segment on this first AGAPE donation of medical supplies, the container being opened in the presence of local medical officials and a TV news crew. The shipment included heart surgery kits, medical outfits, medical gloves, pledgets, adhesive tapes, waste bins, catheters, sutures, syringes, and other accessories. We watched while the Customs Officers and medical staff examined the contents of these containers. What we saw was appalling.
The donated “medical supplies” had been re-packed in old boxes bearing labels for foodstuffs, electronics, and even Coca Cola and KFC, many of which were soiled by mildew, oil, and dirt stains and emitted strong odors. All of the medicines, drugs, pharmaceuticals, were past (or long past) their safe-use dates. Carton after carton of syringes, bandages, sterile wrappings and similar items were all in packages that had been opened and were no longer sterile.It was easy, even on TV, to see that many of the syringes had been used, then replaced in their packages, and one could see the cockroaches crawling around inside the supposedly-sterile cartons. Catheters that were supposedly to be used for heart surgery, were clearly used, were in non-sterile packaging, and suitable only for discard. The disposable syringes contained a suspicious black fluid and had lost their sterility through exposure to the air, while reagents and disinfectants had leaked, contaminating other items.
The shipment contained hundreds of cartons of expired and damaged medical supplies, all clearly used and discarded, many boxes of second-hand medical equipment that also appeared used and damaged. There were as well perhaps 100 cartons of childrens’ medical supplies, all of which had clearly been used and most likely discarded as well. The many wheelchairs in the container were simply thrown into a heap, all clearly broken and unusable, many with broken wheels or no wheels at all. It was all rubbish.
Nevertheless, a bit later, yet another shipment arrived from the Foundation, (with a stated value of several hundred thousand dollars), this time entering Tianjin customs, with the same results. The shipment consisted of almost 1,000 cartons of expired and used disposable medical devices, non-sterile supplies where all the packaging was damaged and contents exposed to contamination, moldy and stained clothing and filthy, used surgical clothing. Customs inspectors found medical pipes that expired in 1998, dirty, mildewed sheets and used surgical gowns stained with blood. Many staff on the scene reported examining children’s and other clothing that was dirty, covered with blood, and otherwise damaged and soiled. It was apparent from watching on TV and was also the consensus of the medical authorities that this clothing was from people who died in accidents and hospitals, with evidence that much of the clothing had been rescued from dumpsters. The entire shipment was garbage. The government closed and locked the containers and returned them to the US. These “charitable donations” were such a shock the UK Guardian covered them in an article, stating, “Thousands of pounds of medical equipment donated to China will be returned to the US because it includes stained bedding, used surgical clothes and expired medical equipment.” The Chinese news media were understated, reporting simply that “three containers of donations sent to charitable organisations in Beijing and the northern provinces of Anhui and Hebei were found to be of “questionable quality” and would be sent back to the US.”
Not to be daunted, another shipment from AGAPE soon appeared in Anhui province, another nearly 1,000 cartons of used and expired medical material with a stated value of $115,000. A short while later, the City Health Bureau of Inner Mongolia received a large shipment of used, damaged and expired supplies, dirty old clothing “and other foreign garbage”. The cartons even contained old quilts covered in what appeared to be blood stains, used and stained gauze rolls and bandages, and filthy boxes that could have contained nothing but infectious bacteria. The shipment was also returned to the US. The Chinese media said, “The real situation of these donations was amazing.” By this time, the shipments contained such serious quality problems that China’s state council issued a warning notice on all shipments of medical supplies from the Foundation. After receipts of the shipments noted below, China’s State Inspection and Quarantine issued a total ban on anything originating from the AGAPE and LDS Foundations, and informed the US Embassy of this fact.
In Wuhan, the Hubei province Inspection and Quarantine Bureau was on the scene with various local medical and charitable personnel, as well as representatives from AGAPE, to welcome a donation of medical supplies which were to consist of cardiac surgery kits, syringes, reagents, wheelchairs, etc. The Foundation stated its donations to Hubei hospital were “to supply its open heart surgery mission” in the region. The beautifully understated Inspection report said, “Field test results were unexpected”. Unexpected, indeed. The entire contents of both shipments, ‘valued’ at several hundred thousand dollars, consisted of used and discarded wheelchairs missing wheels and other major parts, and cartons of expired medications. Another shipment of ‘medical equipment’ contained around 600 cartons in which the medications had all expired by the delivery date, some having expired almost 15 years prior. The balance of the shipment consisted of syringes in damaged packaging that was no longer sterile, others with an unknown dirty liquid, spider webs, mildewed and contaminated supplies, and used medical waste. The Inspection staff quarantined the shipment on the spot and ordered it immediately incinerated.
A short while later, the American LDS Foundation headquartered in Utah, a charitable arm of the Mormon Church, shipped another container to Wuhan, this one weighing ten tons and ‘valued’ at $360,000 (but valued for their tax deductions at $4 million), that authorities described as “the largest shipment of foreign medical waste in history”. And this was truly medical waste – used and discarded syringes, blood-stained bandages, damaged instruments, and worse. The shipment contained hundreds of cartons of expired medical supplies, used and damaged second-hand medical equipment, old and damaged rehabilitation equipment, used and non-sterile heart surgery kits, used and stained medical outfits, used medical gloves, pledgets, adhesive tapes, old medical waste bins, non-sterile catheters and sutures, and other accessories. Once again, all medications had expired prior to arrival in China, some having reached their expiration dates 15 years prior. The shipment contained not only expired and used supplies, but also used and discarded bedding and clothing that were filthy, much of it blood-stained, the remainder mildewed, torn and faded. Liquids had leaked everywhere, and all supplies were packed in dirty, used boxes which were stained with mildew, oil and other contaminants, making the containers appear to be garbage bins – which they were. Experts at Wuhan Medical University who examined the shipment contents, asserted they were simply a dumping of medical waste. The two loads were incinerated almost immediately after opening. The LDS Foundation claimed to have no knowledge of these events, but declined opportunities for media interviews. Following these American misadventures, the Chinese charities took legal action to sever their contracts with AGAPE, and China’s national government instituted a total ban on all non-factory shipments of medical equipment and supplies from the US and the West, with heavy fines for any violation.
After some investigation, medical authorities concluded that AGAPE had scoured the US for medical waste from sources scattered throughout the country, those sources then shipping their medical waste directly to China while AGAPE took the tax deductions for the claimed values. India reported similar issues of not only medical waste but electronic waste that was economically useless, could not be recycled, and was dangerous or expensive to destroy. India estimated at the time more than half of the small-scale waste products in the country had originated in the US and Europe, disposed of by shipping to India as ‘charitable donations’, a major portion of this product being potentially lethal medical waste. It was not only cheaper to ship these categories of garbage to China or India than to deal with them locally, but the Western charities profited hugely from these schemes since they could charge disposal fees to local US firms. In the case of electronic components, these charities could charge an American firm $20 to dispose of a PC or equivalent amount of computer trash, then ship it to a poor country for less than $2, and pocket the difference. A similar case was true for medical waste. In fact, such imports had been banned in China and other nations years earlier, but the huge profits made these collections and shipments too enticing for American charities to resist, resulting in a huge illegal market for the dumping of medical and other hazardous wastes.
A reporter informed us that AGAPE entered a figure of only $30,000 for the value of its first China “donation”, but claimed an air transport cost of $400,000 – even though the shipments were made by ocean container! AGAPE explained that the apparently low value of the goods in these shipments was due to their being priced “at cost”, and passing into China duty-free. Otherwise, they claimed, the “real” cost would have been many times higher. Then, in a surprising accounting maneuver which I don’t even pretend to understand, Brown claimed that $800,000 of total surgery costs in “Asia” would entail a much lesser expense for materials – perhaps only 10%, with the balance being transportation etc. Then, working backwards, he created an assumed cost for transportation (for the supposed $30,000 value of medical waste) of US$400,000, claiming this amount as a tax credit in keeping with his Foundation’s tax exempt status as a US charitable organisation. This scam was almost certainly done with the active participation, and quite possibly the encouragement, of the US State Department, since many of these so-called charities are primarily political NGOs fronting as something more innocent, many of them, like Bob Fu’s China Aid, having direct and open links to the White House.
These offensive practices imposed a significant financial burden on the other nations, since most of this hazardous waste was both dangerous and expensive to de-contaminate and destroy locally. The local Chinese charities suffered financially to the extent of millions of dollars by having to absorb port fees on shipments plus all logistics costs, tax and customs clearances, inspections and medications tests, and many other procedures, as well as the heavy costs of either returning the containers to the US or the local destruction of the contents. Even more, the Chinese charities paid the travel expenses of AGAPE and other US charity executives to China, including their airfares and hotel accommodation plus living expenses while in the country, all in anticipation of genuine medical donations. Of course, the Americans know nothing of this, since the US media censor all such stories and neither Google nor Bing seem to yet have discovered it. By contrast, Baidu serves up about 150,000 pages on this topic of AGAPE, the LDS and other American Charities and Foundations. When confronted with this mountain of appalling evidence, Ron Brown, director of the Agape Foundation, stated that “one of the containers had been delayed in shipment”, causing “some supplies to expire”. Brown asserted that local Chinese authorities had destroyed usable supplies along with expired ones, noting that the reasons behind this were “dubious”. When asked why the Chinese would refuse (and incinerate) donations of good medical supplies worth millions of dollars, Brown’s response was to say, “The key is that we reduced paying bribes to them.” Charming.
Mr. Romanoff’s writing has been translated into 32 languages and his articles posted on more than 150 foreign-language news and politics websites in more than 30 countries, as well as more than 100 English language platforms. Larry Romanoff is a retired management consultant and businessman. He has held senior executive positions in international consulting firms, and owned an international import-export business. He has been a visiting professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University, presenting case studies in international affairs to senior EMBA classes. Mr. Romanoff lives in Shanghai and is currently writing a series of ten books generally related to China and the West. He is one of the contributing authors to Cynthia McKinney’s new anthology ‘When China Sneezes’. (Chapt. 2 — Dealing with Demons).
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