Type 1 diabetes isn’t the kind of illness I can take a holiday from as it requires multiple injections of insulin every day. This means that I can’t skip my treatment for a few days in case I would fall short on supplies. Yet, counting on local pharmacies to refurnish my stock isn’t an option, since distribution of pharmaceutical products is problematic in most countries I am to cycle through. I hence need, as I explained it in my previous post about the temperature problematic, to organise my own supply chain along my route.
The Pharma Companies
To do so, my first step was to contact the pharmaceutical companies producing the insulin and the medical supplies to ask them if they would agree to support my project, by ensuring access to medical supplies in the different countries I would be cycling through. Bike with Diabetes did raise an interest among some of my interlocutors, and several appointments were scheduled in the offices of big pharma companies. Yet, as much as my project was interesting because of its peculiarity, it is its peculiarity that made it complicated for my interlocutors to back me.
I hence asked if, and where, I would be able to find supplies in the different countries I was planning to cycle through. To my surprise, I could only obtain laconic replies consisting of lists of countries where the different companies’ products were distributed. I didn’t manage to get more detailed information.
Still not being certain that I would be able to access insulin along the way, my next step was to try to organise that supply chain myself. I hence contacted the main logistics companies providing temperature controlled shipping, like DHL, FedEx and TNT, all of them disposing of temperature controlled facilities in all the countries I was to cycle through. Yet, once again, no agreement could be found there either. The main reason behind their refusal was that they would only establish contracts for bulk deliveries. In other words, deliveries to a specific place on a regular basis, instead of to different destinations every time, according to the progression of my journey.
Furthermore, the three companies only had one temperature controlled facility in each country, always situated in the capital, except for South Africa which has a more developed infrastructure.
Last but not least, the importation of medical supplies seemed to be bothersome for those companies as a lot of paperwork would be required to get the packages through the customs.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs & the Embassies
I was starting to doubt the feasibility of the whole endeavour when a friend suggested to contact the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to see if a solution could be found with them. I was received by Jozef Smets, Desk Manager for the Horn and East Africa. I exposed him to my project and he told me that he would do his best to help the project as he very much liked my enterprise. A few days later, I received an email explaining all the formalities needed to send packages through the diplomatic mail service. Packages would have to be brought to the Ministry on specific days of the week, depending on the location of the embassy they would be sent to. Embassies would receive the instruction to store my packages in their pharmacy fridge, until I would come pick them up. It would then be up to me to organise my supply within the country. This kind of help, of course, only happens exceptionally, and I can’t thank enough Christian Monnoyer, Jozef Smets, and all the people involved, from the Ministry, to the embassies, and everyone in between!
Yet, several countries where Belgium has no representation, remain like dark spots on my map: Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and, the most challenging in my eyes, Sudan, given the high temperature problematic on one side, and, on the other, the 4.000 km distance separating the embassy in Cairo, from the one in Addis Ababa.
Unable to find a solution before the set departure date from Brussels, I decided to start my journey towards the south of France, then Africa, anyway, keeping in mind that a solution had to be found before reaching the south of Egypt!