On an early September morning in South Sudan, a Boeing 737 was beginning its descent into Juba International Airport. Among the Kenya Airways’ cargo sat seven highly anticipated pallets containing thousands of antibiotics, antiviral and anti-parasitic medications, and vitamins.
The medicines would soon be distributed to operations across the country to treat hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese people in need of medical care. Long before they were ever to reach their patients, they first had to make the journey from manufacturer, to warehouse, to airport, to implementing organization
“Humanitarian logistics is incredibly complex,” says Airlink President and CEO Steven Smith. “We all see so much need in the world, but the process of actually getting items to the necessary places takes logistical expertise and coordinated partnerships.”
The logistics of delivering aid to South Sudan are indeed complicated, but nonprofit Airlink and its partners accepted the challenge with the common goal to deliver aid to those in need.
A Coordinated Partner Response
Airlink connects humanitarian organizations with the aviation sector to deliver responders and relief supplies in the wake of natural disasters and humanitarian crises. Airlink and five other groups came together to deliver those seven pallets to South Sudan and, ultimately, to the internally displaced people who would benefit from them.
Humanitarian organizations Tearfund and International Health Partners (IHP) UK first procured the nearly $200,000 worth of medical supplies to be used by International Medical Corps in South Sudan.
A long time partner of Airlink, International Medical Corps requested assistance from Airlink in moving this critical shipment of medical supplies to Juba.
Nonprofits shipping humanitarian supplies to areas affected by complex crisis can run into a plethora of issues. High costs and low availability of airfreight, difficult and complex customs clearance processes, and securing last-mile transportation from the airport to a safe and secure distribution center leave plenty of room for error.
Airlink works to make sure its humanitarian partner meets as few logistical obstacles as possible, working with supply chain professionals like Flexport to ensure total compliance with airline and in-country requirements and regulations for a seamless delivery.
“There are millions of people in South Sudan in need of healthcare, and the best way for international organizations to reach a landlocked country in crisis with these valuable supplies is by air,” Smith says. “We knew the circumstances of this movement required some additional support, so we teamed up with two new partners – Flexport.org and Kenya Airways.”
Kenya Airways provided the lift for the cargo and Flexport.org helped to facilitate the supply chain coordination.
“By combining Airlink’s invaluable, unique network with Flexport’s platform and logistics professionals, nonprofits gain access to affordable and reliable logistics services. This partnership allows nonprofits to focus even more on their core services instead of worrying about the status of a shipment,” says Head of Flexport.org Susy Schöneberg.
A Need for Life-Saving Cargo
In South Sudan, nonprofits like International Medical Corps are working tirelessly to stem the spread of communicable diseases.
“Access to lifesaving healthcare is a dire concern in South Sudan,” says Ky Luu, Chief Operating Officer at International Medical Corps. “Attacks on health workers combined with severe shortages of essential medicines continue to hamper international relief efforts.”
The combination of conflict and economic crisis has weakened the health system across the country, with an estimated 4.8 million South Sudanese people in need of assistance to access health-care services in 2018.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 80% of the healthcare services in South Sudan are provided by humanitarian partners, but services are dependent on funding. Internally displaced people in the country remain highly susceptible to endemic communicable diseases. In 2017, outbreaks of cholera, measles, malaria, hepatitis E and kala-azar persisted. (OCHA, 2018)
Airlink and its aviation partners often cover the cost of airfare, ensuring that lack of funding does not hinder programmatic reach.
“Airlines and aviation companies want to play a part in disaster response and Airlink makes it easy for them to lend their resources and reach to humanitarian efforts in the regions they serve,” Smith says.
Medical Aid Delivered
From securing the supplies to coordinating their movement, a total of six organizations and companies assisted in getting the shipment to the capital city of Juba.
Once on the ground, the Kenya Airways’ flight cargo was unloaded and distributed across the country by International Medical Corps, where millions require medical assistance.
“The arrival of essential antibiotics and other medications allowed International Medical Corps to immediately assist a large group of internally displaced persons who were recently relocated to the outskirts of the capital city, Juba,” says Dr. Earvin Mazambi, Medical Director of International Medical Corps in South Sudan. “The remaining supplies will enable our health clinics and mobile medical units to reach additional patients in some of the hardest hit areas of South Sudan.”
The mobile clinics are capable of seeing 100+ people a day, treating patients for diarrhea, malaria, respiratory infections, and skin diseases.
“Whether it is getting pallets onto a cargo freighter or packing small boxes of medicines onto a mobile medical unit, logistics is a part of humanitarian response every step of the way,” Smith says. “A successful delivery of supplies to the intended individuals means we did our job – and none of us could accomplish that alone.”
This networked solution – bringing together logistical coordination and the power of aviation to mobilize relief efforts – ensured the life-saving medicines moved from UK warehouses to patients across South Sudan in just days.
*Specific dates and locations have been omitted from this article to protect the humanitarian workers and aid recipients in South Sudan.