SUDBURY -- A group in Sudbury that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy personal protective equipment at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic is now donating the PPE's to India, where the need is greatest.

The group of current and retired physicians in Sudbury acted quickly when the pandemic began last year to tackle the soaring need for PPE.

 “It was a stressful time and, you know, locally we had a shortage of PPE here that actually impacted our ability to perform surgery,” said Dr. Steve Morris, an obstetrician at Health Sciences North.

"It was threatening the ability of cancer patients to receive chemotherapy. Thankfully it didn’t, but this situation sort of armed myself and a few other physicians and I think pretty much everybody and we wanted to take action and help out."

Morris said the group put a plea out to community members to donate N95s in the spring of 2020.

“We saw a lot of solidarity around that Sudbury’s a really tight-knit community and there were a lot of donations locally from construction companies and Vale with respect to masks and gowns,” he said.

Fundraising began as the group reached out to doctors at HSN and other local physicians to donate.

“The response was unbelievable," Morris said. "Within a week, I think, $2,000 donations from just individual doctors. We raised just under $300,000, so that’s a statement as to how concerned everyone was at the time.”

The group procured tens of thousands of masks and a thousand litres of hand sanitizer. Some of the supplies were sold to local dentists who were having difficulty getting PPE to be able to open their doors.

Dr. Jagan Reddy knew there was a stash of supplies sitting waiting to be used and when he heard of how COVID was affecting his home country, he reached out to see if supplies could be sent overseas.

'Things are much better now'

“Things are much better now -- from about 400,000 cases a day I think it has come down to around 100,000 now," Reddy said.

"In the particular province where we sent the supplies, it is called Andra Pradeh in the southeast part of India where I come from … The size of the province is about the size of Newfoundland, but the population is 50 million and there are about 20 thousand new COVID cases a day.”

While numbers are dropping, there is still a huge need for PPE. A thank-you letter sent to the group from Venkat Medapati, president of the Andhra Pradesh Non Resident Telugu Society, said more than 80,000 PPE kits are needed at more than 170 government hospitals.

Reddy said the supplies have now reached India and this week he thinks they are being cleared from customs.

“I worked with a government advisory group which works closely with the medical director who oversees all of the hospitals in the province," he said.

"They get daily reports (on) which hospital needs what. So on that basis, this PPE will be distributed to whichever place is needed.”

About $140,000 was left over after supplies were purchased from the fundraising efforts. Morris said the group reached out to donors and asked if they wanted their money back, but everyone agreed that it should be used towards a good cause.

Morris said in the coming weeks, the group will announce how the money will be divided up. But he said it will stay here in Sudbury and will help with issues such as homelessness and food insecurity.