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Local agencies use their AIDS network to help quake victims

By James F. Smith
Globe Staff / January 21, 2010

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Two Massachusetts organizations that have spent years helping Haiti cope with its AIDS crisis have quickly put their supply-chain network to use for quake victims, getting tons of crucial bandages and antibiotics into the hands of doctors and nurses desperate for the most basic supplies.

“We converted what stock we had in the warehouse into emergency relief, and we basically put them into kits and got them out into hospitals,’’ said Dr. Jonathan D. Quick, chief executive of Management Sciences for Health. “I was amazed how fast it happened - the first deliveries left the warehouse in 48 hours.’’

The Cambridge-based nonprofit provides health management expertise and training in developing countries and has 187 employees in Haiti - all of whom survived the quake, Quick said.

He said in a phone interview that just one of the agency’s four buildings in Port-au-Prince was undamaged, and fortunately it was the main warehouse. In the days that followed the Jan. 12 earthquake, staffers delivered some 40,000 pounds of medicine and emergency medical supplies to 16 hospitals and 14 other clinics around the capital.

Haiti has faced an avalanche of HIV and AIDS cases, giving it the highest infection rate in the Western Hemisphere. About 120,000 people are infected with HIV, or 2.2 percent of the population of 9.2 million, according to US government data, and some 17,000 people are on antiretroviral drugs. About 7,500 Haitians died of AIDS in 2007; until the quake, it was the leading cause of death among adults aged 15 to 44.

Management Sciences for Health jointly operates an AIDS drug network with the nonprofit arm of a global development consulting group, John Snow Inc. Based in South Boston, Snow has more than 500 US-based staff and has 81 international offices and 1,200 employees abroad. Its nonprofit arm is the JSI Research and Training Institute.

Together, the two organizations created the Partnership for Supply Chain Management to ensure that national AIDS programs get the right amount of antiretroviral drugs when needed, and at the right price. It’s dangerous for patients who start antiretroviral treatments to stop taking them or to miss treatments.

The supply chain partnership has helped set up drug supply systems in 17 countries, including some of the poorest nations. That work is funded through the US Agency for International Development and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The supply chain now provides antiretrovirals to more than 1 million people around the world.

Quick said that even as it delivered emergency medical supplies, the Haiti supply chain also made its first routine resupply of antiretroviral medicines on Tuesday, ensuring that no one would miss a treatment for lack of drugs.

Management Sciences for Health has worked in Haiti since the 1980s, and Quick worked there himself over several years, putting to work his own expertise in managing essential medicines. In addition to co-managing the AIDS drug network in Haiti, the nonprofit runs a capacity-building program for local health providers and a leadership training program.

The AIDS drug supply chain system in Haiti started with 12 sites in 2006 and now has more than 100 locations, some in very remote areas.

The program includes training workshops for local staffers in the countryside. The central warehouse uses automated software and hand-held scanners to manage inventory.

Quick said the Haiti team already had sharpened its emergency response skills in the series of devastating hurricanes on the island in 2008.

“Through that, the team hardly skipped a beat,’’ Quick said. “And the same thing is happening this time.’’

James F. Smith writes about Boston’s global ties. His blog is at boston.com/worldlyboston. He can be reached at jsmith@globe.com.