Can predictive supply chains help improve global health?

Predicting problems before they occur for healthier lives

By | 3 minute read | October 21, 2019

USAID medical supplies packed for distribution across Cameroon

“It’s about saving as many lives as we possibly can,” Tim Wood said. “The hospitals aren’t large, expensive buildings. In many cases, they’re remote structures in the middle of the desert.”

Wood spoke to Industrious en route to a meeting with USAID about its Global Health Supply Chain Program-Procurement and Supply Management project, implemented by Chemonics, a development contractor, and a consortium of partners, including IBM.

Getting bed nets, HIV medication and other health supplies from medical storage facilities in Washington DC to remote parts of Africa is no small feat. But Wood, a global supply chain VP at IBM, and his GHSC-PSM consortium partners are doing just that. And they’re doing it with the help of a cloud-based predictive supply chain.

Global supply chains are crucial to any business or operation. And they have particular significance in the global health industry.

“In many cases patients have to walk two, three miles to get their medication,” Wood said. “It’s our job to make sure that medication is there on time.”

Mother and son near health clinic outside Yaoundé, Cameroon

In 2017, international development contractor Chemonics and IBM came together to oversee one of USAID’s largest projects in history, worth nearly $10 billion. The mission: deliver health supplies for HIV/AIDS, malaria and reproductive health to more than 60 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Kenya.

According to the World Health Organization, 770,000 people died from HIV-related causes in 2018. The largest percentage of victims was in Africa. Though those diagnosed with HIV can live long lives, only 62 percent of HIV-affected adults receive antiretroviral drugs, which can help fight infection and lower your chances of transmitting the disease.

“It’s not like ordering a pair of sneakers off Amazon,” Wood said. “Hospitals and clinics place orders for so many medical supplies that they could fill three football stadiums.”

The logistics are staggering.

Shipments of that size require coordination between shipping vessels, local governments and medical staff. Tracking the various milestones across those numerous supply chains is a challenge. The tracking system needs to ingest data from various sources and track shipments, spot areas for improvement and predict when orders will be late.

Chemonics field office director uses ARTMIS to track a shipment

To manage a mission of this magnitude and complexity, Chemonics and IBM created a first-of-its-kind global supply chain operations platform, Automatic Requisition Tracking Management Information System (ARTMIS).

ARTMIS includes an online catalogue, optimization techniques and data visualizations that help manage orders up to 24 months out empowering distributors and local Chemonics team members.

“We created an early warning system,” Wood said. “If an order was going off track we would be notified and could act on the obstacle immediately.”

And with transcontinental orders that could fill football fields, obstacles definitely occur.

This motorcycle delivers medical supplies to a remote health clinic

To get supplies to hospitals in remote areas, the GHSC-PSM team not only coordinates between chartered planes and ships, but also ensures that proper country-specific waivers are granted. Each recipient country has specific policies and regulations that must be followed. The waivers can take up to six months to be approved, and if the approvals don’t come through, supplies can get held up at border checkpoints—or never leave the distribution centers at all.

Besides tackling obstacles in real-time, the team is also planning ways of predicting problems before they occur.

ARTMIS features dashboards that allow for pervasive data visibility throughout the supply chain, not just to the central warehouse. And because the solution is based on the IBM Cloud, these capabilities are available worldwide.

Tom Coleman, a supply chain management practice leader at IBM, believes predictive analytics for supply/demand forecasting isn’t a pipe dream.

“We’re now in a place where we can actually recommend orders,” Coleman said. “Say a country orders two years’ worth of bed nets. Through advanced analytics in ARTMIS, we can see how much of the order is reaching patients and make recommendations to save on costs.”

Cameroon’s capital Yaoundé at dusk

To date, ARTMIS has led to an on-time delivery rate of 90 percent and, on the GHSC-PSM project, has helped save more than $90 million in US government funds. That, in turn, has helped the team procure more medical supplies.

For Wood, the work supports a critical mission.

“Our goal is to help eradicate HIV across Africa,” he said. “If the logistics are in place, we can do it.”