By Amy Kircher, DrPH and Erin Mann
We recently returned from a whirlwind, 8-day trip to Sierra Leone and Rome as part of the “Building Resilience in Disaster Response Systems” project. Funded by the Paul G. Allen Ebola Program, FPDI has partnered with the Logistics Cluster of the World Food Program (WFP) to improve medical supply chain visibility, both upstream (manufacturers / suppliers) and downstream (distribution). The partnership with WFP was launched in earnest this month when WFP invited us to Sierra Leone to observe downstream operations in an Ebola-affected region and then on to Rome for several working sessions at WFP headquarters.
During our time in Sierra Leone, we spent several fascinating days learning about the downstream side of the medical supply chains during emergency response. We had the opportunity to visit several key sites relevant to Ebola response and to interview a wide range of experts directly involved with the response. We also saw a small glimpse of the public health control measures in place because of the outbreak; our temperatures were taken at least a dozen times at the entrance of office buildings and alongside roadblocks.
Highlights of our research included:
- Interviews with staff members at WFP Headquarters in Freetown
- In-depth discussions about existing WFP technology solutions used in the field
- Site visit and tour of a key logistics hub and storage units in Port Loko
- Visits to UNICEF and WHO headquarters
- Meeting with ground handling staff at Lungi International Airport
While in Rome, we had the opportunity to meet, brainstorm, and share technology demonstrations with several different groups at World Food Program headquarters. These included Logistics Cluster staff, representatives from the UN Humanitarian Response Depots, USAID, WHO logistics staff, and the WFP Food Quality Unit.
Our trip provided incredibly valuable information that will inform our work as we re-apply methods and technologies originally developed for food supply chains for medical supply chains during an outbreak. While the challenges of humanitarian response during a pandemic are daunting, many opportunities became clear during our time in Sierra Leone and Rome. Encouragingly, some of these opportunities overlap with work FPDI has already tackled with food products, including crosswalking codes and descriptions for products across data systems and across stakeholders.
Thank you to everyone who generously shared their expertise with us and a very special thank you to our colleagues at the World Food Program for hosting us.