CORONAVIRUS: THE CRUCIAL ROLE OF SUPPLY CHAIN IN CURBING EPIDEMICS

Feb 10, 2020
DIGITAL

On the 30th of January 2020, the OMS declared a state of public health emergency of international concern following the outburst of an unidentified coronavirus in the province of Hubei in China. This fast spreading virus threw the global economy out of sync, with trade and travel restrictions undermining all industrials sectors. It is said the 2020 coronavirus outbreak could reduce China’s economy by 1% to 2%... However, that’s not our topic today.

Epidemic outbreaks occur every year. This Coronavirus is not the first -and probably not the last- global sanitary crisis to threaten the economy’s fragile equilibrium (think of the SARS outburst in 2003, the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, the 2014 Ebola epidemic.). In fact, with new challenges such as climate change, population density and urbanization surfacing, these accelerated epidemic outbreaks are likely to become more frequent which is why finding ways to curb them is crucial.

In situations of extreme sanitary urgency, the implementation of an emergency supply chain has been explicitly recognized by the World Health Organization as a key tool to successfully manage the propagation of deadly diseases and avoid pandemics.

The rise of supply chain visibility and management tools have shown great potential in defining demand and managing the delivery of medical supplies to critical areas in record time. A research on epidemics control and logistics operations carried out by Thomas K.Dasaklis, Costas P.Pappis, and Nikolaos P.Rachaniotis highlighted the importance of an optimized supply chain to face these -often unpredictable- circumstances:

‘Logistics operations play a crucial role during the containment effort of an epidemic outbreak as they strengthen the ability of all the parties involved to promptly respond and effectively control the situation,” they wrote. “Even at a long-term level, strategies adopted in commercial supply chains could be also adopted in the case of emergency and/or humanitarian supply chains in an effort to match supply with demand.’
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This process implies collecting, aggregating and correlating the demands for supplies, workforce and facilities and matching them with available resources in order to establish an optimized plan of action as quickly as possible in the pre or post outburst stages of an epidemic in order to contain it.


Resources such as medical stocks, well-trained personnel, transportation or medical facilities are of paramount importance and need to be checked and updated regularly. The World Health Organization has published several pandemic preparedness guidelines regarding supply storage and availability advising that vaccines and medical supplies should be kept in large quantities in strategic locations in order to be readily available in case of an outbreak.

“The flow of essential medical supplies, transportation activities and demand for medical personnel are some of the logistics-oriented features that depend on the available information regarding disease’s progression. At the same time the management of materials flow during the containment effort necessitates its own stream of information. Highly sophisticated systems in business supply chain and relevant technologies like RFID could also be adopted in the case of epidemics containment.”

It would be foolish to think of the supply chain solely in regards to commercial and industrial activities. Cases like this Coronavirus epidemic are highlighting the huge potential of supply chain visibility and management solutions in anticipating and actively fighting deadly diseases.

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