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PAHO Mobilizes SUMA Logistics, Supply Management System for Haiti Emergency

Washington, DC, March 15, 2004 (PAHO)—The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is installing its SUMA supply management system in Haiti to inventory relief supplies arriving in the country, according to PAHO officials.

Logistics and supply management are often critical needs in emergencies and disasters, which are "harsh testing grounds for the logistical and organizational capacity of the affected countries," said Dr. Jean-Luc Poncelet, who heads PAHO's Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief Coordination Program "The challenge is felt with special intensity in the health sector, where deficiencies in supply management can have deadly consequences," he added.

Countries that have experienced a disaster or an emergency often face a "second disaster" when tons of unrequested or unneeded supplies arrive, causing bottlenecks at airports and ports and forcing hard-pressed emergency workers to sort, evaluate and classify supplies, according to PAHO. In most cases, the best way to help is to donate cash instead of sending supplies, experts note.

With SUMA (Supply Management), a simple computerized system collects information on supplies at airports, seaports, or borders, and the SUMA team assigns a priority to each item based on how it meets the needs of the disaster victims. Items are classified by category, subcategory, and item. SUMA teams work at warehouses and distribution hubs, managing information on the distribution of items from central to peripheral points. Information gathered in the field is forwarded in an electronic format to the central level, where the emergency is being managed. Reports are generated for disaster coordinators, so they can monitor pledges from donors and identify gaps or duplications, PAHO officials explained.

"The management of supplies, whether from the local market or from an external source, is, in most cases, a complex logistical problem that should not be left to improvised decision making. The acquisition, storage, mobilization, and distribution of supplies to the victims require a minimum framework of organization that permits efficient handling and better use of the resources," as well as transparency in resource distribution, Poncelet said.

PAHO has about 70 people in Haiti and is working with numerous partners to restore a functioning health system for the country. Additional experts in logistics from PAHO and from "Cascos Blancos," (White Helmets) an Argentinean humanitarian entity, have arrived in Haiti to help with the problem of managing humanitarian supplies.

Emergency Operations Centers have functioned throughout the crisis at PAHO headquarters in Haiti and in Washington, where experts consolidated and presented information for partners to orient aid to affected areas of Port-au-Prince, Gonaives, Cap Haitien, Saint Marc, Port-de-Paix and Hinche. As the most acute part of the emergency phase slowly wanes, many health sector needs will remain, PAHO officials noted.

PAHO's network of partners in Haiti includes the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), UN agencies such as UNICEF, WFP, UNDP, UNAIDS, non-government organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, Medicins du Monde, Oxfam, ICRC, CARITAS, Haitian Red Cross, Centre Development de Sante, Catholic Relief Services, local health authorities and a team of more than 300 Cuban doctors.

Missions to nine departments in Haiti began last week to gather information on current health needs, including maintaining the cold chain and stocks of vaccines. Medical supplies were distributed to more than 12 hospitals and health centers. Haiti's PROMESS Central Pharmacy, supported directly by PAHO since 1992, was not looted and medicines requested by PROMESS were purchased and distributed.

"PROMESS has not stopped carrying out various activities and with a great deal of effort we were able to distribute drugs in different areas of the country with our network of partners in health," said Dr. Lea Guido, PAHO's country representative in Haiti.

Hospitals have been slowly reactivating their services, with a key limitation being lack of funds. Haiti has 8 million inhabitants, of which 60 percent have access to health services. Most of the population uses the public hospitals.

PAHO was established in 1902 and is the oldest public health organization in the world. It is also the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization and works with all the countries in the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples.

For more information:

For more information, video material, or photographs please contact: Daniel Epstein, Office of Public Information, (202) 974-3459, e-mail:

Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization
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Tel.: +1 (202) 974-3000 Fax: +1 (202) 974-3663

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