As most of you know by now, the mosquito-spread Zika virus is a full-blown public health emergency.
Why is Zika a threat to the healthcare supply chain, though? For starters, there simply aren’t enough resources available to prepare for it, and healthcare supply chains are already stretched thin—and in some places, stretched to the breaking point. At the same hearing mentioned above, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Tom Frieden testified that funding for Zika is insufficient, and that what funds are being used are taking a toll on other important public health priorities, because the CDC is “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Another reason Zika threatens supply chains is that it is difficult to predict in advance where, when, and how hard the virus will strike. Even the most agile supply chains need accurate predictions to know where to position supplies for a Zika response. 2.2 billion people worldwide are at risk of infection, so the need for adequate preparation is dire—yet it’s unclear where to make preparations. Finally, when it comes to healthcare supply chains supporting foreign assistance programs, the U.S. Agency for International Development has built and helps to operate some very robust capabilities – but most of them are in sub-Saharan Africa, not Latin America.
That’s not to say there aren’t supply chain activities that can help blunt Zika’s blow. The CDC, for example, provides great information on how to create do-it-yourself Zika prevention kits, along with lots of information about how to control mosquitoes in and around your home and how pregnant women can avoid exposure to the virus. Supporting mosquito eradication efforts is another way the supply chain can help turn the Zika tide—and eradication also limits exposure to yellow fever, malaria, dengue fever, and other diseases.
Finally, supply chain managers can make sure that their staff members, many of whom work outdoors and in other mosquito-friendly places, are well-educated and aware of the risks and how to avoid them. Health supply chain managers should also be aware of additional strains that can result in the need to test people who may have been exposed to Zika, particularly pregnant women. Although the World Health Organization does not currently recommend testing all pregnant women living or travelling in Zika-infected areas, health workers should consider offering a first trimester ultrasound scan to perform a basic fetal assessment.
Why should we take action now? Partly because it’s the right thing to do—but also, because with Zika, it’s a “pay me now, or pay me later” situation, and the future bills could be enormous. That’s because the principal long-term consequence of the fever caused by Zika is a birth defect called microcephaly—an incurable, potentially crippling condition that can lead to an entire lifetime of costly treatment and management. According to the CDC, microcephaly can produce a wide range of additional complications:
- Developmental delay, including problems with speech or other milestones like sitting, standing, and walking;
- Intellectual disability, characterized by decreased ability to learn and function in daily life;
- Problems with movement and balance;
- Feeding problems, such as difficulty swallowing;
- Hearing loss; and
- Vision problems.
Let’s do what we can now to attack this virus—before it attacks us and our babies. LMI can help in two ways. The first is represented by this post—we can educate our employees and their families to be aware of and cautious about the Zika threat. The other way LMI can respond is by doing what we do best—strengthening health supply chains here and in the developing world to prepare for and prevent the impact of Zika on populations around the world.