The reporting is a bit late since this happened in October, but anyway: what kept me (very) busy the first half of October was the organisation of a ‘technical exchange meeting’. On October 19th, around 50 people from 30 different organisations came together for a day to discuss the medicines supply chain in Haiti. IDA’s Managing Director, visiting from the Netherlands, led the discussions. Keep reading for anecdotes, or see the brief news item on the IDA website.
The organisation of the day took a lot of emails, phone calls, and visits – I was, uhm, let’s say complimented, by the Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Health on my ‘persistence’ in trying to reach him and organise an appointment. It is true that this persistence was sometimes a little stalker-like; contact information is in one way very difficult to find in Haiti for someone who doesn’t have an existing network to start with. Emails come back with messages of error, and phone numbers regularly don’t work or change. With NGOs you don’t know if someone is still in their current job or already in another country (especially after the earthquake where there were many short-term jobs). With the government information online might not be updated, and official email addresses sometimes have full mailboxes, so it’s better if you know someone’s personal email. So this all took a fair amount of browsing NGO contacts database, asking around as I got to know people, and yes, asking Google too.
On the other hand, contact information can be very easy to get when you find the right person – in the case of the Chief of Staff, I had found the number of the previous one, called him, and he kindly gave me the phone number of the actual one. Even better, when I called the actual one, he did not pick up a few times – but then he called my unknown number back. That made my day. Still, the job was not done yet, because though we agreed on a meeting day, we did not have a meeting time until a week later. And then on the day of the meeting I remembered – always call again when you are ready to leave. This proved essential, because he had actually forgotten our appointment in the midst of many. Still, in the end, we had a good meeting, he introduced us to the General Director of the Ministry, who also honoured us by opening the Technical Exchange Meeting the next day.
Now, it’s fun to tell this story with the Chief of Staff, since he’s an extremely busy man and the chance of getting in touch with his counterpart in The Netherlands in the same way is quite small, but it basically took similar exercises to invite others to the meeting. There was one hospital I had had no reaction from, so one day I decided to drop by. Incidentally, this was the day where I really learned to always call again while you are ready to leave; I had gone to the car rental agency without calling in advance, so they didn’t have the documents I needed. We agreed I would come back early the next day. This had been agreed, but I thought ‘let’s call while I’m on the way’. Smart, but not smart enough, because after a half hour drive, I learned the documents would only be there an hour and a half later. I could drive back a half hour, but then would have to turn around immediately again as it is an hour’s drive. Or I could wait there with nothing to do for an hour. Well, luckily, I remembered I was close by this hospital, so I thought at least a few minutes would be well spent by paying their pharmacy a visit. This turned out very well, because the hospital had been having electricity issues, and so the pharmacist hadn’t been able to check her email and know about our invitation!
Anecdotes aside, it ‘all turned out well’. We were particularly happy to have not only NGO’s but also public hospitals, other medicine suppliers, freight forwarders, the government, and the WHO/PAHO’s PROMESS project (which acts as central medical store). The medicines supply chain in Haiti is really not the most efficient right now (post coming up on that), and solutions have to come from all sectors involved. After introductions, we first identified the challenges that the participants were facing, and then we brainstormed for solutions.
Of course, that is only a small first step – then comes the actual work of choosing the most adapted solutions and implementing them, which depends on all actors to play their part. So it was nice that things went smoothly, with good representations from the main actors and constructive discussions, a week later it was a bit of an anti-climax: now what?
Well, that’s for the next post!
Meanwhile, a few more photos from the exchange.