Disease Detectives: The role of a field logistician in international disease outbreaks


Being deployed into a world illness outbreak scenario is a fairly worrying expertise.

The stress begins the minute you get the decision to depart; how massive is the outbreak? What’s the pathogen? How harmful is the residing and dealing setting? Ought to I pack my Aeropress? Questions that each one pale into insignificance if you’re explaining to your youngsters why you’re flying to a distant nation with ‘a very nasty illness that’s killing numerous folks’.

However stress and pleasure are a hairs width aside, and deploying to an outbreak will also be an extremely rewarding, difficult and humbling expertise and for me it’s a chance to make a tangible distinction on this planet.

Being able to deploy wherever on this planet

Having to be able to deploy wherever on this planet inside 48 hours implies that occupational well being have you ever jabbed up in opposition to each probably nasty they’ll consider. A lot of the pathogens we cope with don’t have vaccines however these jabs assist rule out the apparent ones if we have been to get sick while overseas.

The logistics workforce have issued all deployable workers with suitcases and seize baggage full of things that make life simpler when working in a fragile or tough setting. These embody issues like multi area Wi-Fi dongles, indestructible smartphones, cutting-edge mosquito nets and somewhat orange whistle. My youngsters wish to think about these devices get handed out to me by some Q-like determine in a Bond movie.

When the decision involves deploy, the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team (UK-PHRST) Operations workforce spring into motion and ship out pre-deployment briefings that embody any and all particulars in regards to the nation we’re deploying to, the pathogen, the outbreak standing, the response and any safety, political and logistical data that we’d want.

Flights are booked, lodging is secured in Overseas Workplace authorized, safety vetted lodges and transport preparations in-country are deliberate.

One of many extra unsettling features of a deployment for members of the family is that we by no means know the way lengthy we will probably be gone, it might be two weeks however it might be six relying on the scenario we discover, the span of the outbreak and our capacity to make a distinction to the response while there.

The position of Discipline Logistician

My job as Discipline Logistician for the UK Public Well being Speedy Help Staff is broadly twofold; to supply the logistical help to the broader workforce, hopefully permitting them to do their jobs extra successfully and to supply technical logistics recommendation and coaching to host governments on outbreak logistics.

Supporting a workforce of epidemiologists, clinicians, information scientists and microbiologists to make sure they’ve satisfactory transport, safety, lodging, communications and area help while in an outbreak in a growing nation could be likened to herding squirrels while driving a unicycle blindfolded.

It isn’t a simple job and may ceaselessly be one which doesn’t go to plan, however that is all a part of the work.

My background and coaching have been initially in existential psychotherapy, the remedy of complicated drug and alcohol addictions and the commissioning of metropolis huge dependancy providers, so I’ve a lot expertise of coping with what might be chaotic conditions and heavy workloads.

When the chance arose to volunteer and head to Sierra Leone in 2014/15, throughout the Ebola outbreak, I jumped on the likelihood and began working within the Kerrytown Ebola remedy centre beneath the steering of PHE’s Neil Bentley (who’s fascinating profession you may read more about here).

Neil recognised that the lab provide chain, was inflicting vital points for the PHE groups working in all of Sierra Leone’s labs, as they have been working out of important gadgets to run diagnostic checks and have been having to make use of usually insufficient private, protecting gear. Neil tasked me with developing with a logistics plan to treatment the scenario.

The issue was that there have been too many hyperlinks within the provide chain, too many individuals getting concerned within the ordering and delivery course of and excessive workers turnover within the labs. This meant that always orders acquired misplaced alongside the way in which and no person might keep in mind who ordered what.

I designed a easy, single level of contact system for the labs to finish all orders and observe shipments. 4 years later I’m nonetheless engaged on provide chain points in outbreak conditions.

Supporting the Nigerian Authorities via a Lassa Fever outbreak

Image showing the building of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control in Abuja

Image showing white building at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control in Abuja
Photographs: Nigeria Centre for Illness Management

In February 2018, the UK-PHRST despatched a small workforce to help the response to a bigger than regular Lassa fever outbreak in Nigeria.

The workforce consisted of two epidemiologists, a clinician and myself because the Discipline Logistician. As this was a ‘bi-lateral’, authorities to authorities deployment, which suggests one authorities working alongside one other, logistical preparations have been the duty of the Speedy Help Staff.

In bilateral deployments like this one, the UK-PHRST adheres wherever potential to Overseas and Commonwealth Workplace (FCO) pointers for UK civil servants travelling and dealing overseas.

For the Nigeria deployment we organized logistical help within the type of transport and native procurement via the African Discipline Epidemiology Community (AFENET), who continued to help us all through the length of our keep.

Challenges throughout the deployment

Having the twin remit of offering workforce help and technical recommendation in Nigeria introduced a variety of challenges. At some point I used to be conducting area visits, investigating provide chain points within the Irrua and Owo Lassa remedy centres the place we have been witnessing the best focus of sufferers, and the subsequent day I used to be spending a number of hours procuring native SIM playing cards in Abuja for the workforce to make use of of their deployment telephones.

One thing so simple as shopping for a SIM card, which within the UK would take 5 minutes to acquire, requires official registration in Nigeria and you must take your passport and wait in an especially lengthy queue earlier than filling out a number of types and discovering out you can solely procure three SIMs per day so might want to do all of it once more tomorrow.

With out native SIMs the workforce can not function and talk, each with one another and with the native NCDC consultants on the bottom. The native SIMs additionally enable us to make use of our international dongles and have roaming web and entry to emails which is significant in fast-paced outbreak eventualities.

The coordination of transport in these conditions is at all times a minefield and we have to make plans for a number of folks, usually desirous to go in several instructions, at completely different occasions and to conferences which can be invariably vitally necessary.

In Nigeria this additionally meant coordinating inner flights, ensuring we had automobiles and drivers to satisfy us in distant areas and guaranteeing that native lodges have been secure and acceptable to our wants. The important thing to success in area logistics is to make sure that your workforce talk their wants successfully and in a well timed method. Failure to plan in an outbreak, in a difficult setting, can have unexpected and doubtlessly catastrophic penalties.

The uninterrupted provide of private protecting gear (PPE) and medicines was a very difficult challenge throughout the outbreak and there have been ‘inventory outs’ in a variety of areas, requiring emergency motion by the World Well being Organisation (WHO). This primarily means none left handy out to folks.

A inventory out of important PPE might power entrance line workers into unsafe practices reminiscent of reusing gloves or robes which have the potential to unfold illness, which is one thing we’ve to cease from occurring.

Coaching others

For the reason that deployment we’ve labored intently with the Nigeria Centre for Illness Management (NCDC) to develop a package deal of coaching to upskill native logisticians within the significance of sustaining efficient provide chain administration in an outbreak scenario.

In March 2019 three members of UK-PHRST workers delivered a two day ‘prepare the coach’ occasion that was effectively attended by six completely different states and a variety of NCDC logistics workers. All attendees dedicated to take the supplies introduced by NCDC, UK-PHRST and WHO representatives, and use it to coach entrance line workers on the significance of inventory administration and provide chain in outbreaks.

The occasion additionally allowed the chance for laboratory workers from the Nationwide Reference Lab to handle their very own logistical considerations and search ongoing help to make sure efficient provide chains for diagnostic providers.

The chance to work on capability constructing coaching and comply with up with native workers to implement the modifications they establish has been a massively rewarding aspect of the job. It has helped establish new areas that the UK-PHRST can help NCDC in driving ahead significant change on the entrance line of logistical help and provide chain administration.

In the event you favored this weblog, you may learn extra from our Illness Detectives collection by clicking the hyperlinks under:

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