Nevein Attalla points to a washing machine-sized red carton wrapped in thick plastic.
‘Any guesses what it contains?’ asks the pharmacist at the Dubai supply office of the World Health Organisation, pausing before a stack of cartons while showing us around the air-conditioned warehouse in Humanitarian City.
Medicines? I guess.
‘Yes,’ she says. ‘This is what we call supplementary kits; each contains enough supplies of medication including those for gout, some mental health conditions and painkillers to treat 10,000 patients for three months.
‘We calculated that it would take roughly three months to put together a kit like this of emergency medical needs.’
The warehouse stocks hundreds of such kits that can be rushed to needy areas at short notice.
Until 2015, the WHO office was operating through the UNHRD. ‘We now have dedicated store areas and a warehouse and office area in the Humanitarian City,’ says Nevien.
Stocking a variety of hygiene, medical and surgical kits including ones that have enough supplies to conduct 100 operations and is packed with supplies for 10 days of post operative care for 100 patients, and basic medication kits that have medicines and injections that do not need specialist doctors to dispense medicines but which nurses can.
The WHO has six such warehouses across the world including in Malaysia and Panama. The one in Dubai covers 22 countries ‘which include some of the most sensitive regions such as Iraq, Syria and Libya,’ says Nevien.
The Dubai office ships or airlifts medical kits on an average of once a week.
‘We are in constant contact with the country offices in the areas under our purview. Each of these offices have staff who are on site and regularly evaluate the kind of medication required. They will message our regional office in Cairo who will then contact us and based on their requests we immediately airlift or ship by road the necessary medical kits,’ she says.
If the previous week WHO shipped a batch of medicines to Yemen, on the day of our visit a shipment of four containers of medicines and surgical kits left for Syrian refugees in Turkey. ‘It just left via a ship from Fujairah,’ says Nevien.
WHO sends more than medicines and surgical kits to people affected by calamities. ‘We also send vehicles, ambulances, mobile power generators for clinics, IT and support systems for our staff in the field… however our main concern is medicines,’ she says.
With a staff strength of three, the WHO office here sent around 42 shipments to 14 countries last year. ‘The medicines and other stuff we sent was worth around $5m,’ says Nevien who is also a logistics specialist.
And what about the figures for this year? I ask
‘To be honest, this year has been a very busy one for us and I haven’t had a moment to compute it. It’s all there on my computer. But priority right now is to put together a shipment to Yemen. There are people there who are desperate for medical aid.’