Voices: Behind the scenes in the fight against Ebola

“A typical day? It’s very different to my life in New York. The work is very challenging, but knowing that we’re contributing to the fight against Ebola makes it all worthwhile.” - Rui Wang, Supply Chain Officer, Ghana

When people think of those fighting Ebola in West Africa, they think of doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers. I was part of the other side of the Ebola response: helping to ensure supplies reached the community care centres and Ebola treatment centres. I spent three months in Accra working as a Supply Chain Officer at UNMEER, the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response. Before heading to Ghana, I was based in UNOPS New York office, as a Procurement and Supply Chain Analyst in the Peace and Security Cluster. I started to work for UNMEER in late 2014, a few months before UNOPS signed agreements with the Governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in early 2015.

When I first arrived, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the operation.  The Ebola response has so many sides that you don't necessarily hear about in the media; there are so many moving parts and people from so many different backgrounds. I had colleagues from UN agencies, the health profession, the military, as well as information and technology experts, to name just a few. Working out where I fit into this ever-evolving system, seeing functions and roles change day-by-day, and with so many people coming and going – this all presented me with a very different type of challenge to what I had expected.

I was involved in operations, working on the supply chain for consumable medical items such as Personal Protective Equipment, and chlorine and sterile gloves, all of which are essential to preventing the spread of Ebola. Ensuring a steady supply of these materials can be a very complicated task, due to the number of implementing partners involved in procuring them and the vast geographical area to which they needed to be supplied. To make sure that the medical centres don't run out of these vital items, I helped to track and monitor global production capacity, and stocks and distribution time across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

After my first two weeks in Accra, where I had to assimilate masses of information very quickly, I was able to visit Ebola treatment and holding centres in Sierra Leone and Liberia. This helped me to get a better understanding of our work. It was then that things started to fall into place: I could see how what we were doing was making a real difference. During the last month-and-a-half I moved to Liberia to help rebuild the supply chains of the health system, which had been devastated by the Ebola crisis.

The most rewarding part of my time here has been seeing the close collaboration of the many different actors involved in this operation. From the private sector to UN agencies, from local NGOs to local people, everyone pulled together to put an end to Ebola. We hope that the worst is now over, but the recovery will require this sustained solidarity.

On a personal level, this has been a life-changing experience for me. Though very challenging at times, I'm now determined to continue working on supply chain management in the humanitarian and development field: I want to go on using my professional skillset to help people in need.