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A medic’s view of humanitarian logistics in Haiti

June 2nd, 2010 | By: Martin Arrand

Now is clearly the time for reflection on the logistics operations during the response to the Haiti earthquake in January this year (see my posts on articles by Mike Whiting and Maggie Heraty).

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is Professor of Surgery in the Division of Emergency Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. A few days after the earthquake he joined the relief effort in Haiti via the International Medical Corps. He is an authority on wilderness medicine, useful for Ray Mears-style adventures, but also an incredible background for dealing with trauma cases in an emergency amid the shattered infrastructure of Haiti.

Speaking recently at a Stanford conference on social issues in global supply chains, he said:

Everything I know about supply-chain management, I learned in the two weeks after the earthquake in Haiti.

Dr Auerbach is quite typical of the resourceful people who become involved in humanitarian logistics. They are full of energy, and often highly skilled in other disciplines, but they find that in order to get things done they need to learn about logistics. Dr Auerbach cites “space and supplies” as key problems, and his blog describes how he took responsibility for administration and medical logistics for the team. (He also notes that the team had to become plumbers and electricians too – there’s a great story of improvisation to get the job done.)

Dr Auerbach’s story is inspiring stuff, and to me it underlines the importance of the work Mike Whiting and many others have been doing with CILT’s HELP Forum (and at RedR) to improve the professionalism of humanitarian logistics. If the IMC had brought a logistics coordinator, more time would have been freed for surgeons to provide medical care. The toll of running the operation, practising medicine and learning about emergencies logistics all at once is clear in Dr Auerbach’s account – at one stage he collapsed and it took 9 litres of IV fluid to get him going again.

Do visit his blog and read the entries – they are informative, educational, and above all extremely humane.

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