PIH/ZL’s strong relationships and knowledge of government systems and protocols in Haiti has always allowed us to provide our hospitals and health care facilities with a consistent stream of essential medicines and supplies. Before the earthquake, on average, we were importing two 40-foot containers per month of medically relevant supplies into the country.
On January 12, our first communication out of Port-au-Prince arrived at 8:53 pm. Dr. Louise Ivers, PIH’s Chief of Mission in Haiti, reported the devastation, and made an SOS call for “medical supplies, pain meds, and bandages.” Within hours, PIH/ZL began organizing emergency logistics operations. The need was unprecedented, requiring a coordinated effort between the teams in Haiti and in Boston. It was decided that we would place large emergency orders to move supplies into Haiti as quickly as possible. To address the expected need for trauma and orthopedic surgery, we quadrupled our typical annual surgical order the day after the earthquake. As communications with physicians and nurses in the field became more reliable, the materials requested became more specific and we continued to send in massive amounts of supplies and equipment.
PIH/ZL mobilized faster than traditional emergency aid groups, in large part because we were able to draw from stocks of medicines and supplies at our existing hospitals and warehouses—all located just a few hours from the capital, but far enough away to escape damage. In those first days, PIH’s Boston-based procurement team made full use of their operations and logistics expertise, spending hours on the phone coordinating with donors, the US military, pilots, and Haitian officials—all while managing hundreds of in-kind donations from institutions ranging from Abbott Pharmaceuticals to GE Healthcare to small town communities.
With each passing day, the situation on the ground changed. Before the earthquake, our preferred shipment method was to send large sea containers filled with supplies to Port-au- Prince. However, the port was destroyed, and difficulties did not ease when the Port-au-Prince airport reopened two days after the earthquake because procedures for securing landing slots were, at least initially, unclear. On January 15, PIH and the Clinton Foundation’s Dominican Republic team established a supply chain for medical relief materials that moved through the neighboring country. The Clinton Foundation staff had the expertise to clear customs at the Haitian-Dominican border, and PIH/ZL was able to move supplies from the border to the Central Plateau, Artibonite, and Port-au-Prince.
The airport was the only place in Port-au-Prince capable of receiving supplies in the days after the earthquake. PIH staff met planes as they arrived on the runway, quickly unloading and routing supplies to where they needed to go. As the US military transitioned airport operations back to the Haitian government in late February and early March, customs procedures were reintroduced at the airport, seaport, and Dominican border, and protocols and systems changed once again. But by this time, our team well adapted to Haiti’s quickly changing situation.
In the meantime, PIH/ZL secured warehouse space in Miami and Port-au-Prince to facilitate collection and distribution, and we have continued to move materials into Port-au-Prince and Cange from the Dominican Republic.
Since the earthquake PIH/ZL has maintained its commitment to public sector involvement whenever possible, even in the realm of logistical support, by working with the Haitian government and other NGOs. To develop a coordinated approach to health care service delivery, PIH/ZL has been assisting the government and NGOs to expand upon our supply chain and communications systems—everything from clearing supplies through customs to coordinating volunteers. Whatever it takes.