Friday, February 12, 2010

UN Chopper Flight

Yesterday made me feel really good about what we're doing down here. It was just one of those days that the coordination came together to make something really cool happen.

A couple of days ago, a guy we met at the UN who has been helping us out told us that we can request UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) choppers to take medical supplies to the areas outside of Port-au-Prince that haven't been getting as much medical support. While these sites weren't hit nearly as hard by the earthquake, they have had a huge influx of people coming into their facilities due to the mass migration of people away from the capital. So they are working with the same resources but seeing hundreds more patients a day. Many of them on the west coast are also receiving post-operative patients coming off the USS Comfort and do not have the beds, supplies, or personnel to deal with them all.

So after receiving a request of supplies from Hospital Albert Schweitzer, a large hospital in the Artibonite region who are the only hospital in the region for roughly 400,000 people, we put in a request for on of these UNHAS choppers and they came through with it yesterday morning. At 10am we met the chopper at the UN airfield and they had already loaded it with the roughly 4,000lbs of product we had brought the night before. Gordo and I got to accompany the flight with four other folks from Channel 3 News in Bangkok.

After a short stop for refueling, we were off for the 30 minute flight to the hospital. The Russian pilots had the coordinates for the landing zone (a dirt soccer field 200m south of the hospital) and although they didn't understand me when I told them to look for the big yellow school bus to highlight the spot, they assured me they would find the site.

Either way, they found it easily and after spreading dirt from the soccer field for what seemed like miles, we landed to unload the supplies into the hospital's school bus.

Initially it was only staff from the hospital who were there to meet us but once people heard the helicopter coming down to land we were immediately surrounded by thousands of people who gathered to see the chopper. I initially assumed the people had gathered because they expected a food distribution to take place but the Director of the hospital told us that they had been trying to get supplies airlifted to them ever since the day after the quake and hadn't managed to get anything there. So they were just there to check out the helicopter that had landed on their soccer field.

With help from the hospital staff, we got the chopper unloaded into the bus and we're back off as quick as we came. We're definitely going to try to get some more supplies into this facility as they are one of the largest in the country, providing free services, not supported by the government, and buying all their own medicines and supplies. We're also going to try and re-focus our search on groups outside the capital city as they seem to be the ones who are being largely left out of the aid supply chain.

It was overall a great experience in coordination. The UN were able to provide the logistical support to us so that we could distribute our medicines to a hospital that was doing great work. That's what it's about, really.

If you want to read more about this, the hospital posted it on their blog yesterday:

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