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October 28th, 2010
11:35 AM ET

Blindsided in the Third World

By Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

I visited one of the largest warehouses in Port-au-Prince yesterday. It is a large structure behind a big blue gate and a handful of security guards. I went to get a better understanding of how lifesaving supplies are distributed in the middle of a cholera outbreak. Outside, workers from aid organizations were also waiting to take supplies to patients in St. Marks, the epicenter of the outbreak.

It quickly became clear that it was going to be a long day. One of the workers told me she had been waiting for several hours to pick up the supplies despite the fact that she had all the necessary paperwork and authorizations. No one was available to help her. After sitting there frustrated nearly the whole day, she eventually left empty-handed, telling me this wasn’t at all unusual. “Typical Third World red tape,” she added.

I eventually made my way into the warehouse, where I expected to see the shelves bare from the recent demand for supplies to treat thousands of patients with cholera. Instead, the warehouse was almost full, with boxes of lifesaving IV fluids sitting there since July, as evidenced by their packaging slips. I asked to speak to someone in charge of the warehouse, and was told I would need to wait a few more hours. I waited.

Three hours later, I met the health management adviser. “We are doing the best we can,” he started. “Look, we saved thousands of lives with supplies,” he added. That was true, yet it still was baffling to me that so many simple lifesaving supplies were in a warehouse in Haiti, had been there for months, and were still sitting there, while hundreds of people died. “ We were blindsided,” he admitted. “No one expected a cholera outbreak.”

There hadn’t been a case of cholera in Haiti for many decades and it is still not clear why one is happening now. “But, still, the supplies are sitting there in tens of thousands of boxes. Why didn’t you distribute them?” I asked. “We have to plan ahead,” he said. “We can’t simply send all of our supplies to one area. What if Port-au-Prince was hit tomorrow?”

And, therein lies one of the big challenges with aid distribution. Trying to meet the immediate need in a disaster while also anticipating future demands. I have seen it happen over and over again in Haiti since the earthquake. It is a bitter irony. People die for lack of lifesaving supplies, even though the supplies were right there in front of them.

Of course, in this case, the supplies in question were not expensive medicines or difficult to transport technology. In this case, it was simple and cheap. It was rehydration packets and IV fluids. In the year 2010, there are still people on their hands and knees begging for clean water.


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soundoff (222 Responses)
  1. ray gibbs

    Inhumane. Our cultures, political classes here (America) else where fail us. Do something President Obama, Sec. Clinton, Ex President Clinton, CDC. Globalization at its worst.

    October 28, 2010 at 14:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. ray gibbs

    Do something Ex-President Carter.

    October 28, 2010 at 14:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. CIAOMAN

    MORALES IS A JERK... AND THE STUPID BUREAUCRATS IN THE WORLD HEALTH ORG THAT HIRED HIM ARE CORRUPT.

    October 28, 2010 at 14:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. ray gibbs

    Praise for Dr. Gupta. Leverage the 'Net & shine the cameras, Doctor

    October 28, 2010 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. delsol40

    Seems to me that the supply's are not getting there is calculated, the governments of the world want to thin out certain populations, whether in Haiti or in Africa or any other poor suffering country, The world just dosent have the resources to feed and take care of everyone.

    October 28, 2010 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Blondie

    when did cholera start there?

    October 28, 2010 at 14:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Melissa L.

    More videos of what might be the cause of the Cholera outbreak in Haiti. UN might be responsible!!!

    http://blog.carelpedre.com/?p=24

    October 28, 2010 at 15:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Justin

    I'll take charge of the distibution and administration and guarantee results. Get me a series of medical teams, security, and distribution vehicles and I'll get a system in place and operating.

    October 28, 2010 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. MillieBea

    Didn't Bill Clinton just bring like 100 million dollars down there? Uh. Bill who'd you give it to?

    October 28, 2010 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. bettie

    Sean Penn told us this about the stored-away medicines in Haiti months and months ago, after the earthquake. Nothing new here. Incompetent coordination efforts have been evident since shortly after the earthquake, it hasn't gotten any better, and people are dying as a result.

    So who's in charge of the overall relief effort? Brownie, you're doin' a heckuva job.

    October 28, 2010 at 16:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Erin

    WTF? that really makesme mad why cant they give out what they got?

    October 28, 2010 at 16:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Mari

    Haiti is 99.9% corrupted. You have to pay a fee for eveything that sits in a warehouse. The UN should be in charge of distributing the supplies so the peacekeeping personnel should be increased. Cut the Haitians out of actually distributing goods. Their involvement should be limited to receiving reports. Why do you think that they are so backward after all these years. They cannot move forward because they always want money under the table. A waste of time and resources if you ask me.

    October 28, 2010 at 16:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bob

      Why is it "our" responsibility to fix all the problems in other countries in the first place? If third-worlders want a better country, they need to stand up, kick out their corrupt politicians and organize a better society. Just waiting for the White Man to come save them is never going to work, and never has,

      October 28, 2010 at 17:06 | Report abuse |
  13. Rick

    It makes me mad that I contributed to the relief fund raising. Not only are they too lazy to help themselves, apparently also too dumb to make use of the help and generosity the global community provided to them.

    October 28, 2010 at 16:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Can't believe it....

    Another tragedy for these poor, suffering human beings, especially the children. God help them please.

    October 28, 2010 at 16:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Virgin Isles

    So typical of the Caribbean...supplies sitting right there, waiting to save lives while officious little local bureaucrats get their kicks and boost their egos because they have the power to withhold the supplies. Have to wonder where Haiti's president is.....why isn't the man down at the warehouse firing the bureaucrats and handing out supplies. Maybe because he has something to gain by not getting the supplies to his people?

    October 28, 2010 at 16:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Janna

      You could be right about that. The more that die while they claim they do not have enough free help, the less horrible they think it looks on them while they want this to happen so they lower the population.

      October 28, 2010 at 17:22 | Report abuse |
  16. John in Raleigh

    How many supplies could be provided if Senator Tom Coburn stopped holding up the $1B in promised aid from the US?

    October 28, 2010 at 16:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Janna

    Yeah, if you donate to an organization outside the USA you are probably placing more money into their governments hands instead of buying supplies for the poor. All they care about is that their government buildings get re-built and that the higher class officials do not die. I hope everyone that reads about these disasters learns that they can NOT depend on their government when it matters most. Be prepared as best you can, and remember that no one is immortal.

    October 28, 2010 at 17:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. bill

    where is the who? everyone say's that we need more aid to help the poor people, why send more aid when the aid doesn't reach the needy
    right now to me chariity stays at home, i am sorry but i am no longer giving donations

    October 28, 2010 at 17:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Truth

    Because the appropriate authority was not bribed. That is the only reason. This is what happens to most aid. It is seized by men in power and sold.

    October 28, 2010 at 17:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. chris

    this is typical U.N. red tape. pretty soon those supplies will be outdated and discarded having served no purpose. what a waste of money.

    October 28, 2010 at 18:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Justin

    Part of the problem with these blogs is that there is a lot of rhetoric and no action. "Oh, those poor people..." and placing blame and pointing fingers. What are you as Americans going to do to help?

    October 28, 2010 at 18:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. RiHo08

    The answer to why supplies are plentiful but are not being distributed is kown if one knows the history of Haiti. Freed American former slaves were shipped to Haiti. These former slaves were more educated and business and polictically astute than the French colony slaves who inhabited Haiti. The American arrivals asssumed the seats of political power and set up an oligarchy that is visible today. That history and legacy are the reasons why supplies needed in the outlands are being sequested "in case" there is Cholera in Port-au-Prince, the location of the oligarchy. The oligarchy are protecting their own: Former American slaves hoarding supplies, money, whatever from the former French slaves. This racist division contributes to the title of "most corrupt country in the world." Haiti is not a failed state, it is functioning just fine with its aparthide legacy and culture. Understanding Haiti's history gives reasonalbe explaination to what appears to be un-intelligable behavior.

    October 28, 2010 at 19:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. JR

    "We have to plan ahead,” he said. “We can’t simply send all of our supplies to one area. What if Port-au-Prince was hit tomorrow?”

    Uh, hey dipstick, you care for the people who are hit TODAY and worry about tomorrow, later so that people don't die. It's not about keeping your warehouse stocked, it's about HELPING PEOPLE.

    He needed to be fired yesterday, and someone with three brain cells to rub together put in his place. If everyone lives and the warehouse is empty, then you've done your job. If the warehouse is filled and people are dead, you are an idiot.

    October 28, 2010 at 19:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. woodedlane

    This is why I never donated money to Haiti as I usually do. There's a couple of fat cats in Haiti sitting on top of all the money, calling all the shots, and probably getting drunk and doing drugs all day with it. They couldn't care less about their people. They may as well be living in North Korea.

    October 28, 2010 at 20:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Kathy

    Something must be done to expedite the process of paperwork approval, for the distribution of pharmaceuticals and supplies from the PROMESS warehouse in Haiti. As this CNN video clearly shows, the process has broken down somewhere along the chain of command. This link is the official PAHO page that shows how the process is supposed to work, as well as email addresses (at the bottom) for the Public Information Officers. -> http://new.paho.org/hai/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2443&Itemid=255 . . . This link has all of the email addresses of PAHO Headquarters leadership -> http://new.paho.org/disasters/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=985&Itemid=920 . . . Maybe an avalanche of emails will help to expedite the paperwork.

    October 28, 2010 at 21:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kathy

      . . . as a follow-up to my previous post . . . In response to my emails to PAHO, I received the following notification . . . "We thought you migh want to read our news release from yesterday. Thank you for taking to time to write to us.
      http://new.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4405&Itemid=1926 "

      October 31, 2010 at 18:21 | Report abuse |
    • Kathy

      . . . PAHO now states they have teams from Argentina and Brazil helping the PROMESS warehouse staff with logistical challenges posed by the Cholera outbreak -> http://new.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4414&Itemid=1926
      . .

      November 2, 2010 at 22:39 | Report abuse |
    • PAHO/WHO

      PAHO/WHO

      J/P Haitian Relief Organization asks CNN to "rectify their story" on PROMESS

      "In the footage, not only did CNN edit her comments to suit the purpose of their story, they also misrepresented the facts when they claimed we had left PROMESS empty handed. The shipment of ringers lactate, IV catheters, doxycycline tablets and body bags was received and subsequently delivered the same day. " Alastair Lamb, Country Director, J/P HRO

      Please follow the link for more information:

      http://new.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4427&Itemid=1926

      November 7, 2010 at 11:22 | Report abuse |
  26. B. Nolan

    The PAHO is a Joke, they dont help

    October 28, 2010 at 22:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • PAHO/WHO

      PAHO/WHO

      J/P Haitian Relief Organization asks CNN to "rectify their story" on PROMESS

      "In the footage, not only did CNN edit her comments to suit the purpose of their story, they also misrepresented the facts when they claimed we had left PROMESS empty handed. The shipment of ringers lactate, IV catheters, doxycycline tablets and body bags was received and subsequently delivered the same day. " Alastair Lamb, Country Director, J/P HRO

      http://new.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4427&Itemid=1926

      November 7, 2010 at 11:20 | Report abuse |
  27. Terry W. Brookman

    Someone is most likely making money off medical supply's, you see it there , in Africa and the city's of America. The stupidest people on earth, over populate then victimize the weak. You will see South Africa fall just like Somalia, the white man comes in and introduces modern technology( like basic water treatment and waste disposal) and democracy they get voted out and the entire thing falls back into tribal warfare. When are we going to just let them die a natural death, there is such a thing as obsolete humans.

    October 29, 2010 at 03:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Terry W. Brookman

    VI. ^ Darwin did not share the then common view that other races are inferior, and said of his taxidermy tutor John Edmonstone, a freed black slave, "I used often to sit with him, for he was a very pleasant and intelligent man".[17]

    Early in the Beagle voyage he nearly lost his position on the ship when he criticised FitzRoy's defence and praise of slavery. (Darwin 1958, p. 74) He wrote home about "how steadily the general feeling, as shown at elections, has been rising against Slavery. What a proud thing for England if she is the first European nation which utterly abolishes it! I was told before leaving England that after living in slave countries all my opinions would be altered; the only alteration I am aware of is forming a much higher estimate of the negro character." (Darwin 1887, p. 246) Regarding Fuegians, he "could not have believed how wide was the difference between savage and civilized man: it is greater than between a wild and domesticated animal, inasmuch as in man there is a greater power of improvement", but he knew and liked civilized Fuegians like Jemmy Button: "It seems yet wonderful to me, when I think over all his many good qualities, that he should have been of the same race, and doubtless partaken of the same character, with the miserable, degraded savages whom we first met here."(Darwin 1845, pp. 205, 207–208)

    It is not the good or the bad it is instead a matter of intelegance in todays modern world, A man with an IQ of seventy five cannot compete with a man with an IQ of one hundred and twenty five. In a brutish world of murder and bloodshed it makes little difference. Beware of a world where the intelligent with power decide they don't need four billion stupid and poor people. Haiti is an example of let them die, wait until they get around to killing them off.

    October 29, 2010 at 04:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Anita

    Bureaucracy! Paperwork! Why wasn't the doctor told why her paperwork was not adequate? Why did Dr. Gupta have to wait several hours for the warehouse director to show up? Where was he?
    Why are supplies sitting in a warehouse when it could be distributed to stop this disease from spreading? Stopping it at the source with warehoused supplies and you won't be needing to keep a supply on hand for "emergencies". The emergency is NOW! If this is the type of supplies that are in one warehouse, what supplies are being kept in other supply centers? When medical aid supplies were sent to Haiti the dread of cholera outbreaks and other waterborne diseases was evident and planned for. Supplies were sent for this specific purpose. Now they sit in warehouses waiting for the proper paperwork to be filled out in triplicate. Fire the administrators of these organizations and get someone in there with some common sense and compassion to release the simple treatment that is needed to stop this disease. Cholera is easily treated with hydration and support. It doesn't take massive amounts of expensive drugs or elaborate equipment. It just takes something as simple as IV and glucose solutions administered as quickly as someone becomes ill.
    Don't blame conspiracy theory, bribery, politicians, etc. Blame the administrators of these warehouses who put paperwork over human lives. If they were living in the same conditions as their victims, how soon after they contracted cholera would they release their stockpile of supplies?
    Yes, Haiti has had corruption for many years. Yes, Haiti has needed help in the past. Yes, Haiti needs help now, not more bureaucracy! What country can grow and learn to manage better during an epidemic that could kill more of the people needed to build a better life for all. There are probably people in the tent camps that could do a better job of distributing these supplies than the man in charge of it now. Is he even a medical doctor? Does he know what these supplies are used for or is he just a paper pusher?
    Dr. Gupta is an excellent reporter on medical issues. He shines the light of public opinion on these tragic circumstances. I would nominate him to take over the administrative duties of this warehouse but I think he does a much better job in exposing the idiocy of the bureaucracy that allows this to happen. There has to be a change of policy in aid distribution and he reports to us the problems and leaves it up to us to find a solution. He doesn't have all the answers but he does have all the questions that we and the different aid organizations should address.

    October 29, 2010 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. luckystar1990

    Why are supplies sitting in a warehouse when it could be distributed to stop this disease from spreading? Stopping it at the source with warehoused supplies and you won't be needing to keep a supply on hand for "emergencies". The emergency is NOW! If this is the type of supplies that are in one warehouse, what supplies are being kept in other supply centers? When medical aid supplies were sent to Haiti the dread of cholera outbreaks and other waterborne diseases was evident and planned for. Supplies were sent for this specific purpose. Now they sit in warehouses waiting for the proper paperwork to be filled out in triplicate. Fire the administrators of these organizations and get someone in there with some common sense and compassion to release the simple treatment that is needed to stop this disease. Cholera is easily treated with hydration and support. It doesn't take massive amounts of expensive drugs or elaborate equipment. It just takes something as simple as IV and glucose solutions administered as quickly as someone becomes ill.

    October 29, 2010 at 23:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. pasta

    This is exactly why I don't donate to those "big" relief efforts – NGO's, tv telethons, etc, etc. after a disaster. I go directly to a source that I am familiar with, educated about, and am shown exactly where my money is going. In Haiti, it is an orphanage that is being run by a dedicated and loving young missions couple from a local church, whose goal is to provide relief and homes not only for the orphanage residents (who usually are not orphans but given up by families) but also to provide assistance for families and caregivers who need help and homes. I can go down there on a mission trip or just to visit to see exactly how my money is being used, if I choose. There is a constant flow of local families, groups, medical personnel, who visit them to assist. They are glad to let everyone see what they are doing and how the money is used, for they know that is what generates continued support.

    It is true about the corruption and payment to release containers and supplies. This group I help support has had a terrible time having large shipping containers released because an outrageous "fee" is always required, which of course varies according to whom is working that day. The containers just sit there for weeks or months until someone gets paid. They have to go back and visit every day until they finally have a day where a container person happens to be kind. And then, they have to find someone to load and drive the supplies, which is difficult. The blog they keep to inform supporters and family members back home about how things are going is sometimes agonizing to read because they need things, know where they are sitting, but cannot get them. And they are their own supplies sent directly to the group, not some distribution post.

    October 31, 2010 at 01:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Rick McDaniel

    Precisely why all the clamor about donations, was rather misguided.

    November 2, 2010 at 15:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. PAHO/WHO

    J/P Haitian Relief Organization asks CNN to "rectify their story" on PROMESS

    "In the footage, not only did CNN edit her comments to suit the purpose of their story, they also misrepresented the facts when they claimed we had left PROMESS empty handed. The shipment of ringers lactate, IV catheters, doxycycline tablets and body bags was received and subsequently delivered the same day. " Alastair Lamb, Country Director, J/P HRO

    http://new.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4427&Itemid=1926

    November 7, 2010 at 11:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Jaime

    Immortal Technique:
    Waiting in Vain:

    There is about 12 Billion dollars of Aid, waiting to be distributed, (conveniently earning interest for someone by the way) and since world agencies (take your pick) do not trust the shell of government left in Haiti, the situation has spiraled into a game of tit for tat in some instances. Corruption is not relegated to the surviving members of a fractured government. The customs area has thousands of pieces of clothing and non-perishable food that is simply sitting in store-rooms because customs is sometimes demanding $8,000 (US) to allow it into the country. You read it right, $8,000 American dollars to let a few boxes of supplies collected by people like you into the country. There are organizations such as the one I was there with, and Wyclef’s ‘Yele’ that use their longstanding connections with local power players and government officials to navigate around these bureaucracies, but it made me wonder how many good hearted people’s donations were just sitting there in some hangar collecting mold and dust. The supplies I handed out, the stuff I brought myself to give to people, the houses we put people in seemed like a good first step but now I wish more than anything to return and really make an impact having studied the situation. (* I remember after the Earthquake happened the mainstream media did a few stories criticizing smaller Aid Organizations on the ground and encourage people to direct their donation to the Major ones. Now I wonder if it was to promote efficiency or was it to safeguard their corporate partners monopoly?)

    November 15, 2010 at 15:11 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.