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4 Ways Supply Chain Design Can Improve Public Health

By Ryan Purcell  August 21, 2018

Optimization is essential for all supply chains, but for global health supply chains – it can be a matter of life and death. Low and middle-income countries face challenges in providing their citizens with access to immunization, diagnostic tests, and other life-saving materials. The lack of access is deeply tied to inefficiencies within the supply chain of these materials. Keep reading to find out how LLamasoft assists global health supply chains in their efforts to increase access to these materials and the efficiency with which they are delivered.

1. Optimizing transportation routes for life-saving supplies 

Global health supply chains need to discover not only the fastest and most efficient routes but the type of transportation mode that will best support the delivery of life-saving materials. In addition to these typical transport optimization considerations – global health supply chains face unique challenges in low and middle-income countries.

These challenges may include a lack of publicly available digital road networks to assist in the planning of delivery routes. LLamasoft has worked to overcome this challenge by creating maps through a fascinating process. In collaboration with our partner John Snow Inc (JSI), we have used data from existing GPS trackers on delivery trucks. These GPS trackers “ping” a satellite every two minutes with their location. That information is later used to map out and calculate the actual travel speeds and distances on the roads.

Weather can be another challenge as it can impact road conditions during the wet seasons. Rain can lead to flooding or slower means of travel – making it even more difficult to deliver supplies to those in need.

Despite all the variation and challenges, LLamasoft’s technology helps global health supply chains create robust plans that work within these variations to ensure the optimal delivery method of life-saving supplies.

2. Helping plan the delivery of supplies with varying product characteristics

There are many factors to determine the ideal delivery method for supplies provided by global health supply chains. Snakebite anti-venom is an expensive item requiring temperature control which has sporadic and unpredictable demand at a particular location. Antivenom is therefore well-suited to be delivered on demand. Antiretrovirals (ARVs) or medications for HIV have relatively predictable demand (since those who are HIV positive take the medicine, often for the rest of their life) and hence can be regularly distributed. Another product example is Long-Lasting Insecticide-treated Nets (LLINS) — mosquito nets (which play a critical role in controlling and reducing transmission of malaria). LLINs are bulky, have a long shelf life, and need to be replaced only once in a few years, and therefore can be distributed in specially planned campaigns.

Due to all of the variants, there is also a need to identify the optimal mode of transportation. This could include everything from refrigerated trucks to UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). For an analysis to support the use of an innovative new transport mode (UAVs), read the Forbes article here on LLamasoft’s partnership with Zipline.

LLamasoft helps global supply chains determine which supplies are best to store at individual health facilities, the ideal frequency of delivery, and what supplies are best to deliver on demand. Additionally, our technology helps determine the optimal means of transportation based on variables such as the need for refrigeration, the frequency of delivery, the weight of the item(s), and more. Other types of supplies that need delivery optimization include vaccines, lab samples, blood, family planning supplies, and maternal health materials.

3. Determining the optimal location of infrastructures such as warehouses and diagnostic equipment

Global health supply chains require answers to complex questions relating to infrastructure (e.g. warehouses and diagnostic equipment) such as:

  • How many warehouses or testing machines are required?
  • Where should this infrastructure be located?
  • What should the capacity of each warehouse or testing machine be?
  • Which health facilities should be served by which warehouse?
  • Which health facilities should refer samples to which diagnostic facility?

LLamasoft finds optimal answers to these questions by determining the demand for specific supplies, where they are needed, how they are transported and if there is existing infrastructure to be utilized.

4. Assisting with determining ideal inventory targets – to efficiently allocate scarce resources and reduce the risk of expiry or wastage of medical supplies

Storing an abundance of supplies near the areas in which they need to be delivered may seem like a reasonable approach; however, global health supply chains operate in very resource-constrained settings and often deal with unique materials that require temperature control or have expiration dates. There is a serious risk of overstocking materials (inefficient allocation of scarce resources) or spoilage (losing materials in the event of an electricity outage, or other disruption). LLamasoft works to determine the amount of supplies to store and where to put them to ensure appropriate usage.

For example, blood has a shelf life of about 28 days. It is a challenge to determine the amount of blood (and blood type) to keep at a particular hospital. Certain vaccines also have short shelf lives, particularly when they are exposed to temperatures outside the acceptable range.

LLamasoft is committed to helping reduce the amount of wastage of these valuable supplies. This is made possible by helping predict potential demand and helping decide the correct amount of inventory to stock at a given location. These efforts lead to efficiency in service levels for life-saving materials.

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