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Trip Report: Health and Humanitarian Logistics Conference – South Africa

By Ryan Purcell  November 25, 2015

As part of the LLamasoft Global Impact Team I get the opportunity to travel around the world to work with various public health agencies to improve the supply chain networks that carry essentials vaccines, anti-malarial and ARV treatments, as well as basic medical supplies. I recently attended the Health and Humanitarian Logistics Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa to learn about some emerging trends and best practices in the industry.

The three-day conference, hosted at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg, South Africa, attracted nearly 150 attendees from across North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa including representatives from academia, government agencies, non-government organizations, non-profits, social enterprises and commercial businesses.


Keynotes kicking off.

Keynotes kicking off.


The first of two keynote addresses was presented by Girish Sinha, former Director of Mission Support for United National Mission on Ebola Emergency Responder (UNMEER). Sinha shared the on-the-ground perspective of trying to coordinate the response to last year’s global Ebola pandemic. In addition to coordinating across multiple governments and governmental agencies whose people were affected, Sinha was also tasked to mobilize action in these various communities, gain financial support to fund these efforts as well as lead community education and awareness campaigns to keep the public informed with the latest and most accurate information.

One thing that really struck me with Sinha’s presentation was the example he gave about the panic and turmoil the entire healthcare system faced as a result. Due to the lack of preparedness and general panic during the Ebola pandemic, all other medical services became secondary and subsequently care suffered. Sinha noted that in some parts of West Africa survival was actually more likely for someone with Ebola than a car accident victim! Traditional healthcare services were basically shut down.

Alesan Sanghore, the Director, African Region for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), delivered the second keynote address. Sanghore discussed the impacts that politics and diplomacy can have on logistics projects and initiatives. This requires logistics professionals that work in this industry to wear many hats and have a great awareness of the social, political, and economic and ethical factors at play in a situation. Sanghore noted that “In the world of health and humanitarian logistics, we are all politicians!” I agree with Sanghore’s sentiment, but given my experiences working with LLamasoft’s customers across many industries, I would posit that this applies to supply chain professionals of all stripes.

The conference also offered many sessions and panel discussions over the first two days.

One of particular note was on “Visibility and Analytics Networks” (VANs), something we often refer to as a supply chain ‘control tower’. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funded multiple studies and projects on this concept, with the goal of providing materials and support to implement these initiatives for public health organizations and governments all over the world. It’s an idea that is very exciting for the field and impressive work to accomplish in what are often data-challenged environments.

While the sessions were great and informative, for me the coolest and most impactful part of the conference were the “Taking the Conference in to the Field” trips that were offered on the last day. Attendees were able to choose from five optional tours to health facilities in and around Johannesburg.  The tour I opted for was  of several primary health clinics that had been built in shipping containers, known as Unjani Clinics. Unjani, which means ‘How are you’ in Zulu, is a network of for-profit clinics built on a social business model. Each clinic is owned and run by registered nurses in townships and other areas underserved by government clinics in the Johannesburg region. The network currently has 20 clinics, and they are working to expand in South Africa and perhaps more broadly throughout the continent.  The most impressive about the organization was its financial model, which uses Corporate Social Responsibility funding to seed and start up each clinic, but then the business succeeds (or fails) on its merits as a business. Because of this, the organizational business model is extremely scalable and financially sustainable, two hot-button topics in the industry.


The staff at one of the mobile clinics.

The staff at one of the mobile clinics.


Not only was this activity a great way to learn about innovative global health work, but it also provided the opportunity to see and discuss how the supply chain work that we do every day can be applied to the unique challenges faced by practitioners in the field.


Contributor Ryan Purcell in front of one of the Unjani mobile health clinics.

Contributor Ryan Purcell in front of one of the Unjani mobile health clinics.


Stay tuned for upcoming posts from the LLamasoft Global Impact Team. And to learn more, click here to learn more about global health supply chain initiatives with LLamasoft.