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7 essentials to create a resilient global healthcare supply chain

Creating an effective global healthcare supply chain is vital for health equity. Davos 2023

Creating an effective global healthcare supply chain is vital for health equity. Image: Photo by Myriam Zilles on Unsplash

Stanley Bergman
Chairman of the Board and CEO, Henry Schein
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • SARS, Ebola and COVID-19 have tested the world's ability to deal with outbreaks and pandemics.
  • A global pandemic preparedness system needs sustained political will and investment to ensure the global healthcare supply chain can effectively respond to a crisis.
  • If we don't get serious about pandemic preparedness now, millions more lives will be at stake.

It was 20 years ago, when the SARS outbreak exposed key fragilities in the global healthcare supply chain, that people internationally began to talk seriously about pandemic preparedness.

Eight years ago, when the Ebola outbreak proved the world no better prepared to address outbreaks, there was more talk and some action. This included the founding of the Pandemic Supply Chain Network (PSCN), by the World Health Organization, World Economic Forum, World Bank, World Food Programme, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Henry Schein and more than 60 companies. The PSCN was established to make it easier to anticipate and respond to global healthcare supply chain disruptions.

Yet today, nearly three years into the COVID-19 pandemic – the worst global health crisis in a century – many of the same supply-chain fragilities remain. Although partnerships, such as the PSCN, and national efforts somewhat blunted the severity of supply chain disruptions during the pandemic, the effort to develop a global pandemic preparedness system has yet to garner the sustained political will and investment needed to ensure that the global healthcare supply chain can effectively respond to a crisis.

Daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people. healthcare supply chain. Davos 2023
How the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world. Image: Our World in Data

It’s time we got serious.

The relatively good news is that we’ve learned a lot in the past two decades about what it will take to create a more resilient and secure global healthcare supply chain. Here are seven essential elements:

1. Political will and sustained financing

Although crises often prompt a flood of short-term spending, funds soon dry up as memories fade and priorities shift. True global health security requires global financing mechanisms that enable sustained investment, finally breaking this cycle of panic and neglect.

2. Geographic diversification of manufacturing

Achieving greater geographic diversification requires more than just investment in new factories. Long-term contracts and financial guarantees are needed to sustain the manufacturing of critical healthcare items in diverse locations.

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3. Improved stockpiles and inventory management

In addition to enhancing stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the local, regional and national levels, we must manage inventory more intelligently – from cycling inventory to deal with product expiry to coordinating and harmonising responses across jurisdictions.

4. Platforms for data sharing and enhanced transparency

Through the globally-focused PSCN and various national efforts, including the US Supply Chain Control Tower, Henry Schein has been working across sectors to support the creation of market intelligence platforms that enable the appropriate sharing of real-time supply chain data. While progress has been made, encouraging responsible information sharing across public and private partners requires significant additional funding.

5. Fostering the free flow of goods

Over the past three years, government restrictions on exports played a significant role in exacerbating product distribution shortages. While the desire of governments to protect their populations in times of crisis is understandable, international cooperation to allow the free flow of key products lessens the risk of panic buying, hoarding and, ultimately, viral spread.

6. Coordinated early-warning system for outbreaks

Detecting the next outbreak early is essential to mitigating its impact, protecting global healthcare supply chains and saving lives. Strengthening our global surveillance capacity requires significant investment and better coordination across governments, international organizations and the private sector.

7. Strengthened health systems and better primary care

As Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, famously said: “Universal health coverage and health emergencies are cousins — two sides of the same coin.” Major and sustained investment is needed if we are to reap the benefits of expanded access to care.

Let’s conclude with another number: one. This is the number of viruses it could take to shut down our world again. If ever there was an issue to unite us – one for which we all share the same risk – pandemic preparedness is it. If we don’t get serious now, millions more lives are surely at stake.

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