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How Does MSF Respond to an Emergency, Logistically Speaking?
January 31, 2013
This article is part of the Winter 2013 issue of the MSF Alert newsletter.
USA 2012 © Michael Goldfarb/MSF
A report from the logistics team at MSF-USA.
The first thing MSF does is evaluate the medical needs on site. Based on those needs, we formulate our logistical response. MSF has worked hard to create agile and flexible systems that can mobilize people and resources quickly and efficiently. Among our tools are the logistics “kits” we have at our supply centers in Bordeaux, France, and Ostende, Belgium. They’re pre-organized according to past experiences and range from office kits, which include items such as paper, pencils, and chairs, to medical supply kits, which include surgical instruments, drugs, etc. We also have water and sanitation kits with latrine platforms, water bladders, and pumps. The kits come in different sizes to correspond to different populations. We have a cholera kit with enough materials to cover a population of 10,000, for example. Multiple kits can be ordered for larger populations or programs.
“We send materials by sea, air, or foot, depending on what’s being sent and when it needs to get there.”
A field assessment team recommends which and how many kits to order to the field coordination office and headquarters. In some emergencies, field teams request kits directly from the supply center, but in most cases, the requests are validated by headquarters to help ensure nothing is forgotten. When confirmed, the order is sent to a procurement center. Items that can be purchased locally, like building materials, are procured at the field level.
We send materials by sea, air, or foot, depending on what’s being sent and when it needs to get there. If it’s a three-month emergency vaccination campaign, for example, the first shipment might go by air, followed by a second shipment by sea. Existing programs may order emergency preparedness kits in anticipation of emergency needs. The most sensitive items, such as computers or communication devices, are usually carried by field staff traveling from headquarters.
Regional supply centers in places like Kenya and Panama help facilitate transport and warehousing of supplies. They also ensure that drugs are kept at appropriate temperatures. Drugs are mainly procured by European offices to guarantee consistency and quality; the supply centers in France and Belgium are each licensed to procure and distribute pharmaceuticals. More generally, a centralized ordering system helps us guarantee an inventory and helps us respond rapidly because it means staff in different projects use the same materials, rather than constantly having to learn how to use something new.
We’ve made a lot of improvements over the years, but challenges still remain and we’ll have to keep evolving our methods. We can’t just think that because we’ve done a good job in the past, we’ll continue to do a good job in the future.