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Logistics of swine flu aid

by Michael Keizer on May 1, 2009

Deborah Cannon/AMERICAN-STATESMAN 03/27/06 Michael Leavitt, Secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services talks with an audience at the Hyatt Regency in Austin, Texas on Monday, March 27, 2006. The state held an all-day summit on pandemic flu preparedness efforts. I have had to rewrite this post three times today as new developments rolled in (not the least of which is of course that we are now officially in a pandemic), and as I found more pertinent information

The swine flu pandemic will obviously have a severe impact on our supply chains; however, it will also impact on the demand placed on these supply chains. These demands will come from two sides: the obvious external demand related to the programmed response to the pandemic, but also the less obvious internal demand caused by efforts to protect (and treat) our own staff.

Both will put an increased strain on a supply chain that will already be more vulnerable. Normally, I would have said that this would require forethought and planning, but it seems we are a bit too late for forethought – so let’s stick to planning.

Note that I will write here as if we all work in medical organisations; of course, many of us work in other types of aid work, but as demands in medical aid will be most intense, this presents a ‘worst case’, and although not all of the aspects debated here will be relevant to other organisations, many will.

Much of what I wrote in my post on contingency planning for the supply chain, is applicable to this issue as well. The four-step approach (prioritisation, sensitivity analysis, preparation of plans, resourcing and communication) is valid as well. However, there some things to keep in mind.

One issue that will hit every organisation, will be logistics (including procurement) of goods related to the protection of our staff. It will be necessary to sit down now with whoever in your organisation is in charge of OSH and work out what you will need. Think of protective clothing, microfiltrating face masks, and (depending on whether your staff will be in direct/prolonged contact with influenza patients) many other items. A specific issue is the availability of antivirals. If these are needed in any more than very modest amounts, and you do not have them stockpiled yet, it will be highly unlikely that you will be able to procure them now.

A second step is to look at your organisations programmes, and how they will adapt to the pandemic. Is it likely that your organisation will be involved in the treatment of patients? If so, you will need to start planning for that now: get your programme people to give you an idea of where things might go – again, developing a couple of likely scenarios – see what would be demanded from logistics in these scenarios, and how you can address those demands. I cannot stress enough that now is the time to pipe up if your conclusion would be that logistics cannot address the demands in one or more of the scenarios: both top management and your programme departments should know. Conversely, it would also be a good idea what would be your best guess of what you can do.

In case of a pandemic, your biggest headache (next to keeping your supply chain from collapsing) will probably be procurement: demand for the same limited amount of resources will increase tremendously (share prices for manufacturers of antivirals are already soaring), and you will be just one of the very many customers. So start talking now with your suppliers and see what can still be done. You might already be too late, but you will definitely be too late if you wait much longer.

As with the protection of your supply chain, using a methodical approach to the increased demand caused by the pandemic is essential, and the same four-step approach can be used successfully. However, in the end it is again not so much how you plan, or what you plan, but that you plan which will make all the difference. Don’t be caught on the hop.

(Image by Ryan Schultz. Some rights reserved.)

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