Transporting vital supplies and critical commodities quickly to the epicenter of an international disaster is what USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance does every day. However, the Ebola response has proved especially challenging for USAID’s disaster experts.
“Most disasters we respond to are either natural disasters—such as an earthquake, where the acute needs peak and then go down very quickly—or it’s a war,” explained Kelly Bradley, a logistician with USAID’s Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). “Ebola is essentially a brand-new type of response because outside of a few groups, no one has dealt with it on a large scale before.”
One major obstacle: Affected West African countries did not have robust infrastructure in place to receive and distribute all the goods pouring into their airports. As a result, the United States found itself in the unique position of moving an unprecedented amount of medical supplies to a region while simultaneously working to build a logistics supply chain almost from scratch—all to ensure that health care workers are able to get what they need to save lives.
“We were getting requests left, right and center,” said Bradley. “People didn’t know what they were asking for. We didn’t know what was coming in a lot of the time. Even the experts who do medical responses didn’t fully understand the scope of the need.”
Much of the need centered on delivering enough personal protective equipment (PPE) – including gloves, goggles, coveralls, masks and boots—to health care workers. Enter the U.S. military, which has been working closely with USAID to airlift more than 1.4 million sets of PPE to Monrovia, the country’s capital.
However, once the supplies were flown in, there was no dedicated system in place to transport them to the Ebola treatment units (ETUs) being constructed and staffed by the United States.
That’s when USAID partnered closely with the UN World Food Program (WFP) and supported its work to build a system of warehouses throughout the country and develop a supply chain of medical equipment to ensure ETUs received ample resources to open its doors and stay operational.
With this supply chain in place, PPE and other medical supplies could now be transported by truck to logistics bases located in five strategic Liberian cities, close to U.S.-supported ETUs.
Mira Baddour, a logistician with WFP in Liberia, admits that getting all the main players on the same page was initially very challenging.
“For us, for WFP, we usually deal with delivering food,” Baddour explained. “Now, we were dealing with unfamiliar concepts like ETUs and working with different partners. But [being here] is really a great experience for me… and everyone is now working very well with each other.”
USAID’s Kelly Bradley, who is a veteran of several disasters, agrees that the experience has been personally rewarding.
“Think about the sheer volume of personal protective equipment that [has been] coming in,” said Bradley. “My unit is directly responsible for making sure that it gets to our partners… the Ebola health care workers on the frontlines. It’s a really big responsibility and a really rewarding thing to be a part of it all.”
- Check out more on our response to the Ebola outbreak
- Visit our Ebola Content Hub: On the Front Lines of an Epidemic for more stories and photos
- View USAID’s Photo Collection from Inside the Ebola Response
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