Will the upside-down world of the medical supply chain correct itself in a post-COVID era?
The fragile state of the medical supply chain was clearly exposed during the covid-19 pandemic. Last year, the US’s emergency inventory of 12 million N95 masks was found to not be enough to meet the demand during the corona outbreak. Not only that but it was reported that it would take 4 long months until the country could manufacture and supply enough N95 masks to meet the soaring demand of 300 million respirators. Fast forward to February this year and we find the medical supply chain failing yet again to support another medical emergency in the form of the Texas winter storm. In hindsight, it could be argued that what led to the massive medical supply chain failure was the blackout in Texas that forced various chemical plants that supply essential raw materials to medical manufacturing companies to shut down. This also points to a lack of warehouses that could have stockpiled the medical supplies bringing a major relief during the crisis irrespective of the black-out. This event has put the need for a robust medical supply chain at the center stage.
The current state of the medical supply chain and the distribution of medical supplies and PPE
Lending political Support
The US-Government under the leadership of President Joe Biden has geared up to shape medical supply to withstand any pressure by taking a progressive approach in building it up from all aspects including, raw-material, technology, telecommunications, electronics, etc. The problem areas of the medical supply chain were highlighted during the previous government which was ignored despite the red flags being raised about the concerns of over-dependence on imports for medical supplies.
Eradicating existing problems
However, the current state still faces acute challenges in meeting the increasing demand for essential medical supplies and PPEs. Did you know that the PPE gears like face masks, gloves are rationed for frontline health workers who need them the most? Acute shortage of disposable Nitrile gloves that are critical while handling the patients that help in reducing the risks has led the prices soaring from 30 USD to 300$. The rising demand and lack of distribution have invited counterfeit products to take deeper roots across the medical supply markets. And similar-looking features of the fake medical supplies and PPEs leave the population gullible to health-risks.
Combatting counterfeit products
Furthermore, many small-time traders are jumping the distribution-bandwagon simply to generate higher brokerage, which is leading to a wider gap between the manufacturers and suppliers further disrupting the market. Hence, there is a need, now more than ever, for bulk purchasers to develop a rapport with the manufacturers and distributors. While the individual buyers need to be educated to understand the difference between genuine and knock-off products. The harsh reality is that nitrile gloves especially in North America will heavily depend on imports as infrastructure to support the supply will take years to shape up.
Identifying the Government’s role
The supply chain of PPE is also hampered due to non-existent long-term contracts between the manufacturers/distributors and hospitals that otherwise would result in consolidated purchase instead of relying on imports, incurring heavy costs. Interestingly, the Federal government’s role in mediating in this situation could make a world of difference by imposing certain mandates related to the duration of contracts and creating a stronger network between the two. Fortunately, American Medical Association (AMA) has recently urged the Federal body to effect new regulations and form a coordinated distribution network to help increase the production of PPE gears with immediate effect.
The bottom line
Although the realistic view of the current state of the distribution of medical supplies and PPE does point at many loopholes and bottleneck situations, a constructive approach will help build a better medical supply chain of tomorrow. In our endeavor to do our bit, Pipeline Medical is working towards bridging various loopholes and become instrumental in rebuilding the medical supply chain.