Shipping & Logistics

Navigating medical logistics pain points during pandemic

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Workers of Bedi Industry Ltd in Nakuru town sort and package facemasks on April 22, 2020. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Kenya will receive the Covid-19 vaccine in small portions from 2021 until the country has enough to vaccinate the people at the highest priority when the vaccine is available, according to the WHO) report.
  • The WHO said that each country, including Kenya, will get doses that vaccinate one in every five people, which is equivalent to 9.4 million people.
  • The WHO has already outlined how it would distribute the vaccine to Kenya and all the 156 countries that signed up for Covax, a Covid-19 vaccine allocation plan which is led by WHO Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovations (Cepi).

Bringing medical supplies from their distant sources for use in the frontline in the fight against the pandemic is proving to be one of the most crucial activities in response management. This is according to a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

With countries across the world pinning their hopes on the efficient rollout of lifesaving vaccines in the fight against Covid-19, the study released last week says, governments, NGOs and medical-suppliers ought to work at pace to ensure that their supply chain planning is resilient for this and future public-health emergencies.

“The Covid-19 crisis emerged with such unprecedented breadth and impact that governments have been compelled to transform – away from their traditional roles as regulators and managing the societal impacts of a health emergency, and towards the role of active players in the medical supply chain.

“Lessons learned since the start of the Covid crisis have demonstrated that sufficient planning and effective partnerships with supply chain partners can be important success factors for governments looking to secure critical medical supplies during health emergencies,” Frank Appel CEO, Deutsche Post (DHL) Group, said.

Kenya will receive the Covid-19 vaccine in small portions from 2021 until the country has enough to vaccinate the people at the highest priority when the vaccine is available, according to the WHO) report.

The WHO said that each country, including Kenya, will get doses that vaccinate one in every five people, which is equivalent to 9.4 million people.

The WHO has already outlined how it would distribute the vaccine to Kenya and all the 156 countries that signed up for Covax, a Covid-19 vaccine allocation plan which is led by WHO Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovations (Cepi).

To provide global coverage of Covid-19 vaccines, up to 200,000 pallet shipments and 15 million deliveries in cooling boxes as well as 15,000 flights will be required across the various supply chain set-ups.

Global delivery of 10 billion doses of serum needs scaled-up medical supply chains, according to WHO.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, demand for medical supplies has surged. For example, UNICEF sourced 100 times more face masks and 2,000 times more medical gloves than in 2019.

Bloomberg recent report indicates that the industries that ferry goods around the world on ships, planes and trucks acknowledge they aren’t ready to handle the challenges of shipping an eventual Covid-19 vaccine from drugmakers to billions of people.

“Already stretched thin by the pandemic, freight companies face problems ranging from shrinking capacity on container ships and cargo aircraft to a lack of visibility on when a vaccine will arrive, says Bloomberg.

“Shippers have struggled for years to reduce cumbersome paperwork and upgrade old technology that, unless addressed soon, will slow the relay race to transport fragile vials of medicine in unprecedented quantities.”

This imminent hurdle, according to DHL, global market leader in logistics, is the height of the first wave of Covid-19 infections which revealed several logistics-related challenges in two links of the supply chain – inbound logistics and distribution, while at the same time highlighting possible solutions in its whitepaper, to arrest these problems.

Particularly, as related to personal protective equipment (PPE), DHL says, product-quality issues, constrained transportation capacity, complex customs processes and regulations increasing the risk of delays, warehousing challenges, and limited transparency regarding stock levels all posed significant problems. However, by partnering with a suitable logistics service providers, governments can alleviate these challenges.

Currently there are some 250 candidates for a Covid-19 vaccine in various stages of development. The diversity and novelty of these potential vaccines – and the unprecedented speed at which they are being developed – raises multiple questions from a logistics perspective.

According to the DHL study, different platforms will likely come with different temperature requirements for transportation and storage. As a result, regional distribution capabilities, as well as packaging and transportation sustainability, will all likely be a function of whether temperature requirements for safe and efficacious vaccines will be as low as -80°C or end up falling in the +2–8°C range.

Key to distribution, the study recommends public-private collaboration for an effective supply-chain response. To respond effectively to the next public health crisis, governments need to start putting strategies and structures in place as soon as possible, rather than relying on reactive, ad hoc measures when the crisis hits.

Regarding emergency response plan, it says, while not all activities can be preplanned, a strategic response plan, established in advance, can determine which activities along the entire supply chain should be ad hoc, for instance, gathering real-time demand data and which should be pre-planned such as setting up decision-making and governance entities.

The firm says public-private partnerships proved to be critical in addressing medical supply shortages earlier this year, and will remain an important part of crisis response going forward.

Government-to-government partnerships will also be important, since many health emergencies disregard national borders.

It also recommends strong physical infrastructure, including a pre-established network of warehouses and transportation capabilities, can help ensure a sufficient stock of critical supplies.

The report also emphasized on an IT-enabled supply chain transparency, where real-time visibility along the supply chain will be key in meeting the demands of a global health emergency, emphasisisng that IT tools can provide an up-to-theminute accounting of inventory and provide important predictive information regarding both future demand and shipment routing.