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FHI 360 rapidly mobilizes to deliver urgently needed oxygen in Haiti

January 10, 2022

Hospitals and clinics across Haiti have experienced critical shortages of medical oxygen — an essential treatment for people with moderate to severe cases of COVID-19. Fuel shortages, a blockaded port, civil unrest and curfews, supply chain issues and broken oxygen generators have all presented significant challenges to making oxygen available where — and when — it’s needed most.

To address this rapidly escalating crisis, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) turned to FHI 360’s Meeting Targets and Maintaining Epidemic Control (EpiC) project for help.

The FHI 360 team moved quickly amid mounting obstacles to procure and deliver this lifesaving treatment to five facilities in Port-au-Prince and the south of Haiti. Working with a local supplier, Industrial Dynamics, and in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the USAID Mission and health facilities, they arranged the purchase, importation and distribution of liquid oxygen — in just three weeks.

“Nearly 60 percent of people in Haiti live in poverty, so access to free oxygen is essential to save lives,” said Magda Cheron, project director for EpiC Haiti. “But the health system — which struggles to provide it under normal circumstances — cannot meet the increased demand for oxygen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Led by FHI 360, USAID’s EpiC project has supported a range of COVID-19 response activities in Haiti since 2020, primarily focused on strengthening the capacity of health care providers to manage COVID-19 patients, including those requiring supplementary oxygen. More recently, with USAID funding, EpiC has helped strengthen medical oxygen supply and distribution to health facilities across the country.

Local oxygen production was disrupted by earthquakes and storms in 2021; in October, the country’s two remaining oxygen plants reported supply problems with their vendors. The FHI 360 team sprang into action to find a solution, partnering with Industrial Dynamics to quickly explore options for importing oxygen. Together, they identified a Dominican Republic-based vendor that could deliver a tank of liquid oxygen that met the requisite technical specifications and quality control measures. After it was imported, FHI 360 purchased the entire tank of liquid oxygen — which, when converted to a gas, filled almost 1,700 “H” cylinders — enough to treat about 100 moderately ill COVID-19 patients who require five to seven days of oxygen therapy.

Once the procurement piece of the puzzle was solved, FHI 360 turned to distribution. There were challenges in the Sud-Est department (the southeast region of the country) in particular; the national road to and from this area was largely impassable because of insecurity. The team mobilized a logistics and trucking company to collect empty cylinders from several locations across the south (including in the Sud-Est) and drive them to Industrial Dynamics’ warehouse to be filled with oxygen. The trucking company then returned the filled cylinders to three locations, from which they were transferred to other trucks for transport to individual facilities.

FHI 360 also arranged for two facilities in Port-au-Prince that were in urgent need of oxygen to fill their empty cylinders at the Industrial Dynamics warehouse. One of them, l’Hôpital St. Luc, had run out of oxygen for patients with severe cases of COVID-19; it received more oxygen the same day that it contacted the FHI 360 team.

Since November, FHI 360’s EpiC project has supported additional sites in other regions, including the north. The team will continue to work on a longer-term solution to oxygen shortages by strengthening the oxygen ecosystem, building local capacity for oxygen production and training technicians how to maintain oxygen-producing plants.

Photo credit: JIT Logistics Transport Company