Dr. Randal Schoepp , a researcher with the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, inspects packing cases filled with laboratory supplies prior to departing for Liberia Sept. 25 to support Ebola virus diagnostic efforts. Photo by William Discher, USAMRIID
Behind the Operation United Assistance mission
to respond to the Ebola virus outbreak worldwide is a massive interagency
logistics effort spanning several continents.
While it has not received as much media attention as other aspects of the Ebola relief effort, logistics are sustaining every aspect from troop movement to materiel for building field hospitals to additional health care workers and community care kits.
The U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command has been working in concert with organizations within the U.S. Agency for International Development and Health and Human Services, as well as the U.S. Africa Command, to ensure a long-term concept for sustaining supplies.
The USAMRMC, a worldwide organization, executes the Army’s lifecycle management for medical materiel. In support of Operation United Assistance, the USAMRMC has established an Ebola Response Management Team that focuses on logistics support; laboratory operations; force health protection; training the force; and research and development.
The USAMRMC’s subordinate commands, including the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency and the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center Europe, are supporting medical materiel deployment requirements, such as personal protective equipment to ensure Force Health Protection. The 6th Medical Logistics Management Center is supporting with both expertise and personnel.
Lt. Col. David P. Hammer, the USAMRMC’s deputy director for materiel, said this logistics mission is one of the most challenging experiences he has had in his career.
“Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Desert Storm were all larger; Operation United Assistance is probably the most intensive,” Hammer explained. “Western Africa has limited infrastructure. The climate is difficult. [It is also challenging] working in an Ebola endemic area… coupled with the difficulty in dealing with the labs that have very prescribed cold-chain management requirements. It all makes it difficult to support with good logistics.”
One example, according to Hammer, is cold-chain management, a process used to maintain the conditions during the transport, storage and handling of laboratory reagents. This process starts at the manufacturer and ends with the use of the reagents in a laboratory in West Africa.
“The [Ebola] reagents have to be stored at -20 C, and the storage containers will only hold that temperature for approximately 96 hours,” said Hammer.
With the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease in West Africa, the Defense Department is making critical contributions to stem the spread of the disease, deploying thousands of service members. As part of that effort, President Barack Obama directed the U.S. Africa Command to establish a Joint Force Command Headquarters in Monrovia, Liberia, to support and help coordinate expanded U.S. and international relief efforts to fight Ebola in West Africa.
The 6th MLMC serves as the “supply chain integrators” for medical logistics support to combatant commands, including the U.S. AFRICOM. In support of the Ebola response, the 6th MLMC is serving in several capacities, all of which are to enhance the medical materiel management and supply chain.
“We currently have Soldiers in liaison to the U.S. AFRICOM Headquarters working with the operational and logistics staff to ensure situational awareness, common operating picture, requirements development, gap analysis and supply chain establishment across the theater,” said 6th MLMC Commander Col. Anthony Nesbitt. “We are able to perform in this capacity since we are an intricate part of the Army Medical Logistics Enterprise and the Defense Medical Logistics Steering committee. The ability to function at the enterprise level and the operational level uniquely positions the 6th MLMC to assist the combatant commanders with medical logistics support for the operation.”
Nesbitt said the 6th MLMC has deployed personnel to Germany to assist the U.S. AFRICOM. Soon they expect to deploy additional staff to support the Joint Task Force and the Monrovia Medical Unit, which is operated by the U.S. Public Health Service.
“We are currently planning to deploy a team into the U.S. AFRICOM area of response to provide this same level of support as far forward as possible. This is in accordance with our doctrinal mission and absolutely necessary especially in a developing theater of operation such as the one we are encountering now,” said Nesbitt.
Strong and coordinated logistics is key. The Ebola epidemic is not just a regional threat--it’s a potential global threat, according to health experts. The DoD’s goal is to enable the most effective international response possible, using our government-wide capabilities to fight the epidemic on a regional basis.
“We’re going to have to get U.S. military assets just to set up… isolation units and equipment there to provide security for public health workers surging from around the world,” said Obama in a Sept. 7 edition of Meet the Press. “If we do that, then it’s still going to be months before this problem is controllable in Africa, but it shouldn’t reach our shores.”