Friday, March 19, 2010

Another Airlift

Every so often something happens down here that makes you think that some of the coordination effort between the UN, aid organizations, and the government is actually working. The UN has the tremendously difficult task of trying to coordinate and oversee the over 900 foreign NGOs in the area to avoid duplication and ensure that everyone in the earthquake-affected area is receiving aid. As you can imagine, this often looks a lot like herding cats (or maybe even wind).

NGOs are autonomous agencies and have their own ideas on what they want to accomplish and how they want to accomplish it. However, one of the bright spots in this whole effort is the UN logistics cluster that provides supply-chain and transportation support to groups like us who are providing essential medicines and supplies to hospitals and clinics so that patients can receive the kind of care they deserve.

Like many other organizations currently working in Haiti, we are primarily focused on distributing these medical supplies to the earthquake affected areas of Port au Prince and Leogane. However, medical facilities all over the country are now over-burdened by the thousands of Haitians who have relocated from these areas to go live with family and friends.

The effects on the outlying health facilities are intense. They are receiving additional patients into their already tenuous medical system (511,405 people as of February 17th) but generally not receiving any of the aid that the hospitals in affected areas are. Indeed, after meeting with the WHO last week I found out that they too are focusing their medical relief efforts specifically in these few cities.

So we have made a concerted effort to try and get medical relief supplies to hospitals and clinics distributed throughout the rest of the country. However as anyone who has been to Haiti can attest, the roads are in tough shape and the traffic within Port au Prince can turn a one kilometer drive into a two hour sweaty standstill. So when we heard that the UN was offering helicopters to move humanitarian cargo to areas that could not easily be reached by roads, and that the service was actually being underutilized, we thought it was too good to be true.

So after receiving a request of medicine from an organization called the Haiti Hospital Appeal, who are supporting the influx of patients (many of whom are amputees and quadriplegics who have come off the USS Comfort) at the Baptist hospital in Cap Morin, we loaded up a truck with two tons of antibiotics, oral rehydration, and pain medication for children and brought them to the UN airfield to fill up the Mi-8 chopper. The entire flight and unloading time was only two hours (as compared to the roughly 20 it would have taken by road) and before we knew it we were back at the airfield and they were packing it up for the next trip.

After spending six weeks down in Haiti, I’ve realized the most important part of effective aid delivery is planning and coordination. Planning your route so you don’t sit in the traffic. Planning what services you are going to provide so you don’t dump any useless items on the recipients. Coordinating your efforts with other NGOs to ensure that all the facilities here are being looked after. And in this case, utilizing the coordination efforts of others so that the support for Haitian people can stretch far and wide.

1 comment: