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For International Medical Corps, Supply Chain Stability Saves Lives During Conflict, Disaster, and Disease


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units of medical gear shipping paid for by the Fund

Supply Chain Stability Saves Lives During Conflict, Disaster, and Disease

Disaster strikes our world with alarming regularity. Drought, famine, disease, extreme weather, and ongoing sectarian violence endanger millions across the world, creating layers of widespread need. In these instances, International Medical Corps acts as first responder, providing emergency relief in any region, under any conditions.

The task is always gargantuan. Underpinning International Medical Corps’ efforts is a robust and agile supply chain. Medical supplies and site equipment require constant replenishment. Freight forwarding is a vital artery.

With strategic support from Flexport, the organization has been able to further streamline its relief efforts, making logistics management more efficient and transparent.

More than 7,200 staff members—90% of whom are local to the areas they serve—enable International Medical Corps to fulfill its mission of improving the quality of life of people in need via healthcare and health-related interventions. The non-profit also provides locals with the training they need to become self-reliant.

Recent responses include deploying medical care after an explosion in Beirut; rebuilding hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico; suppressing Ebola in the Congo; and helping countries around the world, including the US, respond to Covid-19.

Underpinning International Medical Corps’ efforts is a robust and agile supply chain. Medical supplies and site equipment require constant replenishment. Freight forwarding is a vital artery.

The Logistics of Saving Lives

The logistical demands of transporting supplies and equipment to devastated areas surpass the challenges of most other types of shipping.

In some places, infrastructure has been destroyed by war. Storms wash out roads. Economic turmoil can limit port access. Internet access may be non-existent or censored.

When first responders are on site in remote locations, Flexport provides assistance to International Medical Corps’ headquarters staff, monitoring shipment progress. If an exception occurs, Flexport can help reroute supplies, work with customs, and send updates outside the platform.

For instance, after a delay in Miami, Flexport discovered an opportunity to provide greater support to the non-profit. With political tensions high in Venezuela, a customs agent decided to inspect a package headed there.

After the platform flagged the delay, a Flexport customs expert worked with the agent to clarify the issue: A shipment of tents and shade covers, worth $15,800, required different HS codes. Within 24 hours, the goods were moving again.

With the additional staff and customs expertise that Flexport provides, International Medical Corps is able to reduce the time it spends on customs. As multiple responses occur simultaneously around the world, customs experts can assist International Medical Corps with accuracy and local specialization, helping it ensure that documentation matches packed contents and shipments reach destinations as planned.

Supply Chain Responsiveness

From International Medical Corps offices, staff members like Nikola Usenovic, Head of Global Procurement, remain in constant planning mode. Preparing for catastrophic or unknown scenarios requires a broad and steady stream of supplies.

Usenovic maintains the integrity of the organization’s global supply chain. With the global procurement team, he manages more than 300 global suppliers and ensures that orders achieve value for money and adhere to donor rules and regulations. Meanwhile, his team of procurement specialists fine-tune the delivery of goods and services to 28 countries, including the US.

“Covid has shown us how flexible the supply chain has to be,” says Usenovic. “First of all, since the pandemic is spread across the globe, we have to adjust our work hours to accommodate time differences during non-stop shifts. Then, we have to re-organize our global procurement team and create regional structures in the US and worldwide.

“In the past, we’ve relied on known suppliers to take care of details for us. Now, we have to take more responsibility for getting PPE [personal protective equipment] and other supplies, because the situation is new and urgent.”

First on the Ground

As the world’s pre-eminent first responder, International Medical Corps’ goal is to have teams on site within 72 hours of an emergency. Being first on the ground means meeting the worst of the situation—with goods ready to go or on the way.

Ronny Elfassy, Manager of Emergency Response Logistics and Preparedness for the organization, handles a dizzying set of responsibilities to support a rapid response.

When a crisis occurs, he either leads logistics management from headquarters or deploys with the team. After assessing the logistical capacity of airports or roads, he launches a response based on available goods, organizing relief supplies and managing imports, exports, and last-mile deliveries.

Once initial site preparations are complete, Elfassy accelerates further infrastructure development by deploying medical field units, sourcing fuel and power, and setting up a warehouse to manage stock and assets. A fleet transports staff and volunteers to manage inventory and additional procurement while in the field.

All the while, Flexport’s platform helps Elfassy keep close track of all shipments on the way, including the individual goods within a container, truck, or plane. Accuracy in tracking shipments has increased by approximately 21% with the use of the platform.

Being first on the ground means meeting the worst of the situation—with goods ready to go or on the way.


Replenishment is an ongoing task for Elfassy and his team. For extended engagements, the goal is supply continuity. The other objective is to ensure appropriate inventory levels before the next disaster.

As COVID-19 responses spiked, maintaining inventory became more fraught than ever, as PPE and medical supplies were in immediate demand.

“The pandemic forced us to manage larger quantities of PPE than we ever had before. We had shortages with our Ebola response, but the pandemic proved even more intense.

“Working with Flexport, we’re able to mitigate some of our challenges, because we have the platform with live tracking,” explains Elfassy. “We have all-in-one services and we’re getting constant updates, which reduces time spent chasing down information by up to 15%. Delays are brought to our attention to solve quickly, before we feel their impact.”

The visibility and partnership was especially helpful with a recently stalled PPE order. Most PPE originates in China, where export laws have shifted with little notice, based on higher demand for equipment and a greater need to catch counterfeit goods.

Last-minute delays became more frequent at the peak of the pandemic’s procurement rush—and just when International Medical Corps thought it had cleared a specific cause for delay, the rules changed again.

But Flexport’s local presence in China enabled it to navigate the regulatory update, inform International Medical Corps of the challenge and solution, and work with additional resources to replenish the non-profit’s stock.

Frontline Responders Fund

International Medical Corps operates via a variety of funding sources, including contract and grant support, contributions, and donated supplies and equipment. Additionally, medical and other services are donated, but shipping still requires extraordinary effort.

As Covid-19 besieged nation after nation in 2020, the organization received an array of supplies as gifts-in-kind, including 500,000 K95 masks and 158,000 face shields coming from China.

Flexport was able to cover the cost of shipping these donations through its Frontline Responders Fund, part of the Fund. Flexport also covered the cost of pharmaceutical shipments to Lebanon, where a recent dangerous goods blast complicated the Covid-19 response.

The Fund, which is designed to unlock urgent shipments, was critical for delivering supplies to Covid responders. In International Medical Corps’ case, having shipping paid by the Fund enabled it to allocate approximately $160,000 to procure additional PPE and medical equipment for more than 20 hospitals and 40 long-term care facilities across the US and Puerto Rico.

Constantly shifting demands will always be at the forefront of International Medical Corps’ challenges. But with the help of dedicated partners like Flexport, it can better manage the supply chain and continue its mission to provide relief for those who need it most.

“Ultimately, the thing I would say is Flexport gives us the assurance and stability to help us save lives,” offers Todd Bernhardt, Director of Global Communications at the non-profit. “You can’t do much better than that.”

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