Keeping Ebola response running: A logistician’s take

Djamilou Abdoulkarim, a Central African Republic national, leads a team of World Health Organization (WHO) logisticians supporting the Ebola response in Butembo, a city in north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. He took up the job in April 2019, heading a 49-member team. Mr Abdoulkarim first stepped into the logistics and operations world in 2005 and has worked in eight African countries, including his own.

When people ask me: ‘So what do you do in logistics?’ I say, ‘How long have you got’?

We are involved in all the challenges, on the frontline … supporting all parts of this Ebola response to provide better coordinated logistics. Everywhere you look, you can see the results of our work.

Logistics is the heart that keeps the operation pumping.

Although I knew this area and the context, when I came I did not expect such huge challenges.

All parts of this Ebola response need our support. Here in Butembo we support a large area of 12 health zones, 217 health areas, two Ebola Treatment Centres, nine Ebola Transit Centres (hosting people suspected to have Ebola) and 10 sub-offices.

Briefly, our tasks include strategy and logistics management, supply chain management, operational support, security support and evaluating and monitoring our activities.

We make sure that WHO teams have everything they need to carry out their tasks, whether they work in the field as vaccinators, for example, or work in the office supporting the operation.

My motto is: If something needs doing, do it straightaway otherwise the problem will grow.

We build and rehabilitate structures: houses, offices, Ebola Treatment Centres, Ebola Transit Centres, case sorting areas ... They must all have water, electricity and adequate equipment.

Then there is the equipment to maintain. This covers everything from radios, telephones, boots, gloves for biosecurity work, raincoats, cleaning products …. If someone asks for something, no matter how small, you have to have it in stock. If you don’t, you order it immediately.

I always worry about something going wrong with the supply chain, because even something small can really affect the smooth running of the operation. That’s why we always have to be on our toes to make sure everything needed is in place and that there’s an adequate supply of everything our colleagues need to do their work.

We are constantly checking orders, goods arriving, vehicles, motorbikes, ambulances, equipment to ensure not just that we have enough of everything but that the quality of the supplies meets WHO specifications.

As for the response itself, I have to say this emergency response is very different to the others I’ve worked in, and I’ve worked in a lot of other African countries.

There’s a complexity to this operation that’s caused by the difficult security situation we find ourselves in. We’ve experienced deadly flare-ups (of violence), physical aggression, the burning down of the Ebola Treatment Centre in March (since rebuilt), inability to access certain areas …

As for the local staff working with us, they receive training in emergency logistics and the fight against epidemics, a real transfer of skills and innovative knowledge. After we return home, they will continue what we started.

Today, I am really proud of what we have all accomplished here in Butembo (as part of the WHO Ebola response).

WHO logistics operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is supported by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid (ECHO).

Djamilou Abdoulkarim
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