Healing the Healers: The Kenyan Medical Industry and Logistics

While some may think of logistics only as an industry in and of itself, the concept of logistics is also a key function that supports several essential sectors, key of them being the medical arena. Supply chain management can be broken down into core operations: warehousing, packaging, transportation and delivery. I know I sound like a broken record because I point that out a lot in my blog posts. Bear with me!

Each of these operations comes into play at some point in the march to sustain health care efforts nationwide.

The most obvious function, shipping, is identifiable in terms of ensuring medical centers and hospitals receive lifesaving supplies, such as medical equipment. Shipping of these presents a unique set of circumstances for supply chain managers. Ever wondered how MRI and x-ray machines got to the ‘high end’ Karen Hospital?

Not only are such machines bulky and cumbersome to transport, they are also extremely sensitive to jostling or bumps, with delicate components that can be rendered useless by improper handling. The need for special shipping considerations is compounded by the fact that most of these machines are very costly, with price tags that make it hard to replace or repair any damaged in shipping. Because of this, careful logistics planning is required when freighting much needed medical equipment to their final destination.

Logistics is also a consideration when arranging for shipment of other supplies to hospitals and medical centers. The rules of transporting foodstuff apply doubly to supplies meant to be consumed by people with weakened immune systems: it is necessary to be even more careful in avoiding contaminants. Well researched, planned and professionally executed supply chain management is needed to ensure food supplies arrive fresh, edible and in a timely fashion.

An important facet of logistics in the medical industry is freighting of medication and vaccines. Early this year, an outbreak of polio believed to have originated in neighboring Somalia compelled the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to announce a door to door vaccination campaign for children under 10 to prevent further spread of the disease.

Image credit: Bray Medical Center

Image credit: Bray Medical Center

Vaccines used required transportation under specific conditions to ensure viability when it was to be used: factors such as temperature, vial seals to ensure no external contaminants, needle and syringe-safe shipping and the like called for precise and detailed packaging and transportation requirements, part and parcel of the logistics function.

Also reliant on high transportation standards is the transfer of donated blood and organs. In this case, time is usually of the essence, requiring well maintained transportation protocols and routines to ensure donor tissues are secured and delivered in proper condition. Aside from keeping such cargo at a precise temperature, there must also be provisions to protect those involved in delivery from having direct contact with the material, which is classified as bio-hazard and could infect personnel with contaminants or be rendered useless by exposure to bacteria or pollutants.

All of these precautions, of course, cannot work against the laws of Mother Nature. The Association of Kenya Medical Laboratory Scientific Officers’ (AKMLSO) recent announcement that a lot of the blood donated to aid victims of the Westgate terror attack would be wasted was met with anger and disbelief. Some misunderstood the situation to mean that AKMLSO was unable to handle the quantities or lacked the facilities to properly store the donated blood.

As their National Executive Director Moses Lome explained, however, modern technology is unable to overcome the fact that even the best stored blood would only be viable for 33 days, after which components of the blood would “expire”, making it unfit for transfusion.

The medical industry thus utilizes logistics as a core operation in the daily pursuit to uphold the Hippocratic Oath, facing the same challenges supply chain managers in other industries endure, with the added pressures of holding human lives in the balance: where negligence can mean direct tragedy and constant vigilance is required. To the heroes working tirelessly behind the medical transportation and warehousing, the rest of us in the logistics industry salute you.

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