FEATURE & INTERVIEW
Dr. Babajide (pronounced ba-ba-ji-day) Salako is responsible at Fresenius Medical Care for handling natural disasters and pandemics.
It is a hot day and the humid tropical air lies heavy and inert on the airport landing strip in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. Just a few days earlier and no farther than 1,000 kilometers away from Miami, Florida, the earth had shaken, plunging the Caribbean country of Haiti into a profound tragedy. Now, in the glimmering midday heat, aircraft are touching down on the runway, one a minute. But instead of the usual tourists, they are bringing relief supplies from around the world. The airport’s depots are bursting at the seams: Everywhere there are boxes and containers, and in the midst of them all rescue workers. Dr. Babajide Salako makes his way through the crowds of sweating people frantically running around. At his side a customs official. They rush from one depot to the other. For some time now, they have been wandering down the rows of meter-high shelves, studying the shipping labels on the containers, giving each other puzzled looks and shaking their heads.
Salako landed here yesterday on board an airplane carrying dialysis machines, bloodlines, dialyzers and drugs to the crisis region – approximately twelve tons of dialysis equipment in total, which he had managed to put together within the space of just a few days with the help of several Fresenius Medical Care employees in the U.S. He had tracked down the charter plane in Florida, at a time when the media was reporting that there was a lack of airplanes to transport the many relief consignments to Haiti. He then flew to Santo Domingo with the supplies donated by Fresenius Medical Care in the freight hold to make sure that they reached the “Doctors Without Borders” organization in Haiti. And now it seemed that these supplies had vanished without a trace.
POWERLESSNESS AND HELPLESSNESS In hindsight, it seems almost inevitable that Babajide Salako should have become responsible at Fresenius Medical Care for handling natural disasters and pandemics. After all, he grew up with crises of this type.
In Nigeria, where the rivers near Ibadan, the place he was born, regularly flooded whole villages, he experienced as a child the powerlessness and helplessness of the authorities. Salako believes that this chaos is the reason why he feels so passionate about planning today. Even as a teenager he would watch news of natural disasters around the world on television. Not out of curiosity but rather out of a serious interest in how people dealt with them. “Even back then I had the impression that the tragedy didn’t only lie in the natural disasters themselves but also in the unsatisfactory manner in which people prepared for them,” he says today. Salako works in the offices of Fresenius Medical Care in Washington, D.C. He speaks in a very quiet voice, almost as if he is deliberately trying to remain calm in view of the devastating topic. But his hands moving constantly back and forth from coffee mug to smart phone reveal his agitation deep down inside. Time and again, he stands up to get himself more coffee or a piece of paper, or apologizes for having to take an important phone call.
TOO LITTLE TIME Babajide Salako was also sitting in his Washington office when the International Society of Nephrology’s renal disaster relief task force (RDRTF) officially asked Fresenius Medical Care for help in Haiti in January 2010. The fate of sufferers of kidney disease in large-scale disasters rarely makes headline news. They don’t appear in television footage. Compared to the total number of victims, the numbers involved are for the most part small, but for these people a situation like the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti is just as life-threatening as the natural disaster itself. Furthermore, survivors of such a disaster are prone to developing acute renal failure due to crush injuries, and may also need urgent dialysis care to stay alive.
The lives of dialysis patients are dependent on the infrastructure: on clinics with functioning equipment, an intact power supply, ultrapure water and deployable staff. If these clinics are destroyed, dialysis patients can’t afford to wait weeks or even months until the damage has been repaired. Typically they need treatment three times a week. A lack of infrastructure, an increase in the number of patients and very little time mean only one thing for Babajide Salako: He has to act very quickly in his job. The two large screens on the wall of the conference room in his Washington, D.C. office connect him to the outside world. It was via video link that a colleague from Doctors Without Borders gave his impression of the situation in Haiti back in January 2010. Salako discussed and coordinated the upcoming activities with colleagues and key senior management personnel at Fresenius Medical Care in the U.S. Everyone was aware what needed to be done in such a situation: where to obtain machines, drugs and dialysis accessories; what was needed; where it had to be taken to. Only Salako knows how he was then able to charter an aircraft when many governments and aid organizations were bemoaning the lack of cargo planes.
ALWAYS AFFECTED A large reinsurance company recorded 950 natural disasters in 2010. 295,000 people lost their lives, economic damage was estimated at $137 BN. These figures are the most devastating in the last 25 years. “We are affected by each of these disasters somewhere and somehow,” Salako responds almost casually when asked why a functioning crisis management program is so important for the Group. “Fresenius Medical Care is an international company with more than 73,000 employees and an even larger number of patients around the world,” he says. Flu viruses, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes or forest fires – all of these always affect at least one dialysis clinic, its staff and patients somewhere in the world.