Fueling the health response: Ian PAHO/WHO
We set off early with our security escort of two humvees and seven troops from the US 82nd Airborne military police. Our mission was to provide essential fuel for hospitals, without which they would lose electricity, and along with it, their capacity to provide health care.
Without any trouble, we found the rented oil tanker truck, but it took a few telephone calls before we found the driver. We then drove across town to the electrical plant where, through collaboration with Venezuelan embassy, we would get the fuel. Only security guards were at the gate when we arrived, and while we waited for their supervisors, we felt a tremor measuring just over magnitude 4.3.
Finally two trucks pulled up, the first with technicians to operate the electrical machinery, the second with engineers for the fuel.
But there were hitches, which were quickly addressed. It took a call to the Venezuelan Ambassador to secure our authorization to enter. Our rented truck had no lower valve to take on fuel, and there was no hose to get the fuel to the top of the truck.
Thankfully, the engineers were nimble to problem solve. They used a small truck with both intake valve and a pump that siphoned fuel from one full fuel truck and sent the fuel into ours … ingenious.
Throughout the day, we fought our way through traffic to the four hospitals. At every moment the 82nd troops were patient, professional, and helpful. At the University Hospital, I checked on cold chain issues for drugs I had dropped off a couple of days earlier. At the Hopital de Paix I schmoozed with a Colombian TV crew, resulting in an interview for their news piece that later appeared on CNN. At the National Blood Centre, I introduced the Americans to the Belgian Special Forces providing security there. At the Maternity Hospital, the director was all smiles when we arrived with 1500 gallons of fuel, without which they would have run out within two hours.
We escorted the tanker back to its base and later said farewell to the American military police. Without their help, this day could have been a tragedy for several hospitals and many, many families. It was a good day.