How was your week?

Although it’s the middle of May and this is far from my first posting, I’m sure there are still lots of you sitting at home wondering just what exactly does a logistician with MSF actually do!?

Although it’s the middle of May and this is far from my first posting, I’m sure there are still lots of you sitting at home wondering just what exactly does a logistician with MSF actually do!? I tried giving you a rough overview of my job in the "What is Logistics?" posting on January 12th . To paint you a clearer picture, I thought that for this entry I would list the highlights from my past week.

Supply, Supply, Supply

To start, this week was full of non-standard orders. Tools for my drivers and their cars, tiles for the operating room and lab floors and training booklets for the outreach team. By the time an order actually gets sent, it has been discussed with the project coordinator, approved by Lubumbashi, cross-checked with the budget and entered into our supply management program. A lot of planning and calculating goes into each order and, in the end, this is extremely time consuming.

I also finalized my yearly international logistics order. This is a big one and is really the only time I get to place an order from our procurement department in Amsterdam this year. Everything from a new generator to spare parts for our refrigerators to solar system controllers to printer cartridges…

We also produced a list of drugs that are running low in our stock. Although this is not a long list, logistics is often remembered for the 2 drugs that ruptured and not the 500 that didn’t. Regardless, we will work with the medical team, the other projects in the area and Lubumbashi to find solutions. The key to success in this area is to be proactive as an “urgent” order for drugs from Amsterdam can take up to 9 weeks to get here!!!

Finally, the lack of flights continues making fresh food for the expats increasingly hard to find. I actually hired a guy with a bicycle to make the 5-day round trip to Mitwaba to buy potatoes. 30 kilos of potatoes for $10 and an additional $15 for his efforts. Incredible. Mind blowing. Capitalism at work, I suppose… and now we have potatoes!!!

Expat Potatoes

Photo: GrantA: Expat Potatoes


Although the rainy season is technically over, we haven’t noticed yet as there was enough rain this week to cause the partial collapse of a latrine at the hospital. Although the pit is still intact, the upper building had to be rebuilt.

The compressor on one of my two ice-lined refrigerators, used for vaccines storage, failed Friday afternoon. Not good. An internal component of the compressor is loose and was causing a short circuit when the unit started up. It doesn’t look like we can fix it here so we installed a backup kerosene fridge and will send the entire unit to Lubumbashi (3 days by car!?) for repair.

Speaking of cold chain, I also started some trials on a new portable refrigerator that I’m testing for the procurement department back in Amsterdam. It is compact, connects to a car battery, comes with a sliding rack for easy access, has cooling and freezing modes and is meant to facilitate vaccine transport for outreach activities.

There are always lots of movements to coordinate, but this week was a bit extreme as we had to deal with 3 emergencies. Typically, someone arrives on a bicycle with a referral form from one of our health centers. I pick a car and find a driver, the hospital produces a nurse or mid-wife and off they go. All three cases this week were related to complications during birth…

We also signed the contract with the mason who will build our new Tuberculosis ward at the hospital. The plans are complete and approved, the material is already here or en route and, after months of discussions and planning, we finally broke ground this week!


Photo: GrantA: Foundations

Not Just Technical…

As the supervisor of 25 national staff, there is always my fair share of human resource issues as well. A written warning to one of the staff for trying to sneak very overweight bags on to his flight back to the project after his vacation. They just don’t seem to understand that a PLANE is not a MINIBUS!

A Director of Nursing who lost his cool, which led to a suspension without pay. A radio operator getting a raise without the knowledge of his supervisor (me) or the project coordinator! A driver in trouble with the police for apparently causing an accident.

We also had a great meeting with the community to get their support in making the 12,000 bricks we need for our upcoming construction projects. The village chief, pastors from the larger churches, our community health workers, representatives from the Ministry of Health and members from the committee in charge of managing the health services in Shamwana. All said, there were about 30 people and we left with a definite action plan. It is really wonderful to see a community truly committed to improving their situation and not just expecting handouts from NGOs!

Finally, I spent an afternoon reviewing the 2009 budget with the project coordinator and adjusting the cost centers to reflect the actual reality in the project.

…and, of course, all the little stuff. Maintenance on a printer. Receipts to sign. Fuel consumption tracking sheets to update. A termite infestation in an expat’s room. My weekly situational report. Shelves built for a storeroom. Vacation scheduled for my mechanic.

…so, how was your week?

I know that all of this may seem somewhat random, but that is what logistics is all about. I can go from deciding to cut the grass at the runway next week to reviewing driver overtime to an emergency order for ammoxicillan for a health center…all in the span of 10 minutes.

We do everything that the medics don’t do and more. In Shamwana, this “we” is a team of 25 national staff and includes drivers, guards, storekeepers, radio operators and senior assistants so I am definitely not alone. However, there isn’t a week that goes by where I’m not constantly amazed at what actually falls into my job description!