April 18, 2016 - When disaster strikes, accountability and responsibility don’t make the headlines. Instead, the news media focus on the scale and impact of the disaster. Details such as injury and death tolls drive interest–and donations—and generous people offer up funds, manpower and materials. What’s less visible, but just as important, however, is what happens to those donations when they reach the disaster zone.
During an emergency, the movement of donations to health facilities is challenging. Faced with shortages of critical medicines and an increase in need, health providers are often overwhelmed. The challenges they face in intaking and cataloguing supplies are exacerbated, and the urgency to quickly mobilize lifesaving aid grows.
AmeriCares has been receiving diverse contributions for more than 35 years, including financial contributions from individuals, donated time and expertise of health professionals and valued products from pharmaceutical companies. We are proud to be the leading nonprofit for delivering donated medicines and medical supplies to health programs around the world. And in times of disaster, we use our experience and expertise to make sure donated assets rapidly and effectively meet acute and chronic needs. This is the behind-the-scenes work that doesn’t make the news.
In the past year, three major cyclones ripped through the Pacific Ocean, leaving death and destruction in their wake. Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu, Typhoon Soudelor battered Saipan and, most recently, Cyclone Winston caused major destruction in Fiji. As director of emergency response at AmeriCares, I spent three months working with partners in these island nations to rapidly and responsibly deliver relief.
In Vanuatu, we worked alongside the Ministry of Health within the United Nations’ cluster coordination framework to ensure our efforts provided the greatest impact. There, AmeriCares supported mobile medical teams treating survivors on remote islands swept nearly clean by the storm. In Saipan, our health professionals were imbedded in the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation (the country’s health care system), where they worked in the emergency room and across numerous hospital departments to meet the surge in demand for care after the storm. At every step, we had to ensure our emergency medical efforts met stringent U.S. health care guidelines that apply to Saipan, the capital of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory.
In February 2016, AmeriCares responded to Cyclone Winston—the strongest storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere—which lashed Fiji with 185-mile-per-hour winds. By the time Cyclone Winston spun out to sea, the powerful storm had killed more than 40 people, damaged or destroyed at least 30,000 homes and nearly half of the country’s health infrastructure and left 350,000 survivors in need of assistance across the archipelago nation.
Not only did our team identify needs and coordinate shipments of aid from AmeriCares warehouses to Fiji, but we also worked with the country’s Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MoHMS) to manage the receipt and distribution of donated medicines and supplies from a range of international partners, including UNICEF, WHO and the governments of Australia and New Zealand. Emergency response in this case included using AmeriCares experience in logistics and pharmaceutical inventory management to help the MoHMS forecast needs, organize and inventory an enormous influx of donated products and allocate medical supplies to the hospitals and clinics most in need.
Accountability is critical to any emergency response. Without it, generous donations may not reach those who need them most. Effectively cataloguing, intaking and distributing aid are the only way to ensure that survivors receive the care they deserve. Behind the scenes, emergency response and global health nonprofits are making sure those critical procedures are in place, even in the most challenging circumstances.