If you took every prescription pill bottle you've ever used and laid them in a single line, how far would they stretch?

Maybe you've been picking up the same two medications every month at CVS for the last 10 years. That's 240 little orange pill bottles right there. And once you start counting all those Motrin and Claritin and whatever other over-the-counter bottles you've gone through in your life, it starts to add it up.

It might not seem like much to you. But it's enough to reach a million lives in the east African country of Malawi.

A landlocked African country near Mozambique with a population of more than 16 million people, Malawi is one of the least developed countries in the world — which means, among other things, that Malawians must contend with a broken health care system plagued by a lack of training, resources, and general infrastructure, making it difficult for people to get the help they need when they need it.

Children in Matanda, Malawai. Photo by khym/Flickr.

And even when the right medicines are available, most patients don't have a way to bring them home.

Resources in Malawi are so scarce that most doctors just wrap prescription pills in the nearest piece of scrap paper or drop them in the patient's hand before they send them on their way. 

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But more than half of Malawians live more than three miles away from the nearest health clinic — a long way to walk with a handful of loose pills.

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If you lose 'em on the way? Guess you're outta luck.

Think about that the next time you're crawling on the bathroom floor looking for that one pill you dropped. Photo by Luigi Guarino/Flickr.

"A safe storage container that protects the medication from the elements is important," explained Dr. Sallie Permar, associate professor of pediatrics, molecular genetics and microbiology, and immunology at the Human Vaccine Institute at Duke University Medical Center. "There have been recent major public health achievements in increasing the access to these life-saving medications in low- and middle-income countries such as Malawi. Yet one of the biggest challenges in clinical medicine in any setting is patient adherence to daily medications."

That's why the Malawi Project put out a call for donations of prescription pill bottles to send to those who need them most.

Founded by Dick and Suzi Stephens, a couple with a history of bringing aid to Malawi, this charitable organization was formed as a conduit to implement humanitarian aid and community projects in the country that can then be handed over to the people themselves.

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"Our whole idea is to empower the Malawians to empower themselves," Suzi said in an interview with NPR, referring to the fact that "teach a man to fish" is one of their guiding principles.

The medicine bottle recycling program is just one of many initiatives that the Stephens helped to facilitate.

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When it was first announced on Facebook in March 2015, the post was shared more than 80,000 times, reaching an audience of more than 5 million people.

\nWithin eight months, they'd received more than 2 million prescription pill bottles to send to the people of Malawi.

In fact, the project was so successful that they had to stop accepting donations because they received more than they could possibly handle.

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Not bad for a little charity run out of the couple's home, huh?

Though the Malawi Project's initiative has ended, there are plenty of other ways that you can clear out your collection of orange containers and still help people in the process.

  1. Peel the labels off and send your pill bottles to an international outreach program, such as Matthew 25: Ministries or Samaritan's Purse (the latter of whom are looking for everything from hospital gowns to lightly used defibrillators, in addition to medicine bottles).
  2. Contact an animal hospital or ASPCA near you to see if they could use some pill bottles stock for pet medicines. (And remind me to tell you that story sometime about my chinchilla's morphine addiction.) 
  3. Reach out to your local community health center or homeless shelter to find out if they're accepting donations. Because as cool as it is to think of your used medicine bottles making a difference all the way across the world, you might have neighbors who could use the help as well.

It's a simple way to clear out clutter and make a major impact on the world. When we work together, everybody wins.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

When schools closed early in the spring, the entire country was thrown for a loop. Parents had to figure out what to do with their kids. Teachers had to figure out how to teach students at home. Kids had to figure out how to navigate a totally new routine that was being created and altered in real time.

For many families, it was a big honking mess—one that many really don't want to repeat in the fall.

But at the same time, the U.S. hasn't gotten a handle on the coronavirus pandemic. As states have begun reopening—several of them too early, according to public health officials—COVID-19 cases have risen to the point where we now have more cases per day than we did during the height of the outbreak in the spring. And yet President Trump is making a huge push to get schools to reopen fully in the fall, even threatening to possibly remove funding if they don't.

It's worth pointing out that Denmark and Norway had 10 and 11 new cases yesterday. Sweden and Germany had around 300 each. The U.S. had 55,000. (And no, that's not because we're testing thousands of times more people than those countries are.)

The president of the country's largest teacher's union had something to say about Trump's push to reopen schools. Lily Eskelsen Garcia says that schools do need to reopen, but they need to be able to reopen safely—with measures that will help keep both students and teachers from spreading the virus and making the pandemic worse. (Trump has also criticized the CDCs "very tough & expensive guidelines" for reopening schools.)

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