Global logistics congestion costs hospital charities lives

Urgently needed medical supplies in places like earthquake-stricken southwest Haiti are on hold for a long time as clinic-in-a-box provider Medical Bridges has to struggling to find a shipping capacity to the 90 countries it serves.

The small US-based medical mission is representative of a large sector of charitable endeavors that have seen their thousands of containers per year held back by the same global logistics crisis facing for-profit shippers. Delays cost lives.

“The students at Texas A&M University provided one of their beautifully equipped clinics for Haiti, we set up equipment and tables and it was ready to ship four weeks after the August earthquake,” said Walter Ulrich, Managing Director of Houston-based Medical Bridges. . “We are still waiting for a niche.”

Ulrich told TradeWinds his organization was less hampered by sourcing the boxes than having them picked up and delivered to a ship. Shipments are often canceled with only a few hours’ notice.

The results are fatal for patients hospitalized in troubled regions. Medical Bridges serves with its two main product categories: medical supplies provided by hospitals in Texas and prefabricated intermodal clinics provided by its partner Texas A&M Build, a volunteer organization at Texas A&M University.

Walter Ulrich, CEO of the Houston Medical Bridges Medical Charity, coordinates global donations of medical supplies from US hospitals. Photo: Medical bridges

In addition to coordinating supplies of donated medical products, Medical Bridges reviews and works with non-governmental organizations in up to 90 countries to identify actual needs and verify actual delivery of supplies.

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“The shipping problem compounds the problems on the ground for these hospitals,” Ulrich said.

“There’s $ 1.5 million of our donated medical products that don’t get there now, about 100 pallets. We don’t know how many people are dying because those pallets are coming in 10 weeks instead of four weeks. we learn from the cases of our partners The absence of a simple suction device cost the life of a two-year-old child in Haiti. ”

Normally, Medical Bridges can expect to get a 40-foot container to its destination at a cost of $ 3,500 to $ 4,000 in four weeks. Now the same container takes up to 10 weeks and costs between $ 6,500 and $ 10,000 once it finds a location.

The cost factor also affects volumes, as Texas A&M students have had to cut back on box deliveries not because of the cost of their supply but of shipping. Labor and supplies may be offered, but freight cannot. Students typically collect $ 20,000 to $ 25,000 per box to cover costs.

Ulrich said: “Some lines have been quoted as saying they will no longer raise their rates,” he said, referring to the rate caps by the main lines in September. “It’s like saying, I tortured you, and I’m going to keep torturing you, but I’m not going to torture you any more.”

Sourcing the actual boxes for medical donation shipments and for clinic-in-a-box projects has not been so bad given the close ties with the companies based around the Port of Houston.

“I’m just glad we’re in Houston and not Los Angeles,” Ulrich said.

“In fact, we did pretty well last year despite Covid-19,” he told TradeWinds. “There have been issues but nothing we can’t handle. We have shipped 43 containers in 2020 and have shipped 27 so far this year against a target of 53.”

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