Humanitarian Health Action

A day at PROMESS

I work in PAHO's head office in Washington DC on the Strategic Fund but came to Port-au-Prince on 21 January to support the work of Haiti's national pharmaceuticals store, PROMESS (the Programme on Essential Medicines and Supplies), to get medicines and medical supplies to health facilities to treating thousands of patients.

My main goal is to ensure the donations match the specific needs of the Haitian population and the organizations providing care to them. With limited space in the warehouse, we want to make sure that it is filled with the drugs and medical supplies that are needed most.

A typical day at PROMESS starts with a quick coffee, a 7:15 am staff meeting and scanning emails. There isn't a moment to waste. We sit down with staff to plan the day, from receiving orders to delivering medicines and other medical supplies.

By 8am, doctors, nurses and volunteers from NGOs, hospitals and clinics in Port-au-Prince and beyond start to arrive. Some know which medicines they need and how much. Others need more guidance. Not everyone working on the ground has a lot experience with this type of situation, so sometimes we help them define what they really need. We receive requests from around 30 different institutions a day. While we fill these orders, dispatching medicines and supplies, new stock arrives throughout the day.

A main challenge is unpacking and sorting the supplies and donations. It can take hours for the team in the warehouse to reach the bottom of a container and ensure the medicines and supplies are stored appropriately.

At 4pm I go to the UN Logistics Base to attend the Health Cluster meeting, which includes a sub-group on medicines and medical supplies, which I chair. Here we talk about any major issues the group's members face, such as patients with infections, what they need more of (e.g. antibiotics), and we find ways to fill the gaps. We also try to look ahead, and anticipate the needs for the coming weeks and months.

Then I return to PROMESS for a quick bite to eat before meeting the pharmacists, more emails, going over the orders to be filled the following day, and writing up notes for the Health Cluster bulletin. Then bed, and the beginning of a new day, full of promise.