“There is no such thing as self-sufficiency in medical supply chains”

Global shortages of medical equipment and problems with supply chains have during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis once again shown the strong need for global cooperation in medical supply chain management. According to experts at Hanken School of Economics governments and international organisations have failed to learn several lessons from earlier disasters and epidemics.

Already after the Ebola virus outbreak in Western Africa 2014-2015 experts on humanitarian logistics warned there is not enough personal protective equipment for medical personnel globally, if the disease evolved into a pandemic. As the Covid-19 turned into a pandemic, global shortages of protective equipment became a fact. This in turn caused for example rich organizations overrunning poorer ones in the race for equipment, outbidding between countries and a great amount of dishonest or unqualified suppliers entering the market.

At the moment there is also a risk for global shortages of cotton swabs for taking Covid-19 tests as well as reagents used in laboratories analysing the tests.

–  It is important to understand that there is no such thing as local or national medical supply chains. Global coordination is essential. The current joint procurement on EU level is a good start. Coordinated actions are needed in order to keep supply chains working, says Gyöngyi Kovács, professor in humanitarian logistics at the HUMLOG institute at Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki.

– We also need to improve our kit-thinking. That is, most medical supplies are needed in kits. Test swabs and chemicals needed for Covid-19 tests go hand in hand. If we have a vaccine, we will need syringes, and so on, Kovács says.

– We also need to focus on preparedness. A recent study shows preparedness pays off in a ratio of 1:7. For every euro used on preparing, countries save seven euros they would need to pay had they not prepared. Preparedness is about keeping supplies in stock, but also training people, ensuring good procurement routines, prequalifying suppliers and not relying on only one supplier.

The HUMLOG Institute, or The Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Research Institute at Hanken School of Economics, has currently three different research projects looking at medical supply chains, logistical challenges and also for example the use of social media during the Covid-19 crisis.

You can hear more of professor Gyöngyi Kovács thoughts on medical supply chains during the Covid-19 pandemic in an episode of Hanken’s summer podcast here. 

More information: Professor Gyöngyi Kovács