Andrea Surette, Technical Advisor, FHI 360
Rebecca Dirks, Project Manager, FHI 360

Cover Photo: Empty “H” steel oxygen cylinders sit ready for transport to the warehouse in Port-au-Prince to be refilled (Credit: JIT Logistics Transport Company).

Empty cylinders are marked with a colorful tag to identify the facility where they should be returned.

Today, oxygen is flowing to COVID-19 patients in five facilities in Port-au-Prince and across the South of Haiti. Just days ago, the facilities faced a critical shortage of medical liquid oxygen—an essential medicine to treat people with severe COVID-19. Facilities across the country have faced major constraints in oxygen supply due to fuel shortages, a blockaded port, civil unrest and curfews, supply chain issues, and oxygen generators in need of repair. To address the rapidly escalating crisis, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission turned to the Meeting Targets and Maintaining Epidemic Control (EpiC) project for help.

EpiC moved with unprecedented speed amid mounting obstacles to procure and deliver this life-saving treatment. The project worked with a local supplier, Industrial Dynamics, to arrange the purchase and importation of liquid oxygen into the capitol as well as transportation to facilities—all in the span of three weeks. This successful effort was the result of collaboration and coordination between the EpiC project, the USAID Mission, the Ministry of Health, health facilities, and the local supplier.

USAID’s EpiC project has supported a range of COVID-19 response activities in Haiti since last year, 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 been helping to strengthen production and distribution efforts to keep consistent availability of medical oxygen in Haiti.

Last month, the country faced diminished capacity to produce oxygen locally, and its only two suppliers reported supply disruptions from their usual vendors. The EpiC project sprang into action to find a solution.

Transfer of filled oxygen cylinders in the South-East. This truck was en route to Hospital St. Michel de Jacmel.

The project partnered with Industrial Dynamics to quickly explore options for importing oxygen into the country. Together, the partners identified a Dominican Republic-based vendor that was able to deliver a tank of liquid oxygen that met the requisite technical specifications and quality control measures. After import, EpiC purchased the entire tank—which held enough oxygen to fill almost 1,700 “H” cylinders.

Once the procurement piece of the puzzle was solved, the EpiC team turned to transportation. There were particular challenges in the South-East; the national road to and from this area was largely impassable because of security concerns. Nevertheless, EpiC mobilized a logistics and trucking company to collect empty cylinders from several locations across the south, including the South-East, drive them to Industrial Dynamics’ warehouse to be filled with oxygen, and then return the filled cylinders to three locations in the south. After entering the South- East, the full cylinders were transferred to other trucks to the be transported to individual facilities.

Additionally, EpiC arranged for two facilities based in Port-au-Prince that were in urgent need of oxygen to fill their empty cylinders at the Industrial Dynamics warehouse. One of those facilities, Hospital St. Luc in Port-au-Prince, had run out of oxygen to treat severe COVID-19 cases, and staff were left trying to keep patients alive. After contacting the EpiC project, St. Luc received more oxygen the day it ran out. 

The EpiC project 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 on maintenance of oxygen-producing plants.

Trucks arrive to deliver full cylinders of oxygen to St. Boniface Hospital in Fond-des-Blancs, Haiti.