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Tinglong Dai, Johns Hopkins University

(THE CONVERSATION) Lack of important medical supplies, especially personal protective equipment, has paralyzed the ability of the United States to quell the COVID-19 pandemic.

At least 54,000 residents of nursing homes and workers have died from COVID-19 in the US on June 26. This is a staggering number compared to nursing homes in Hong Kong, which have reported zero deaths despite the narrow living space.

Other countries with sufficient PPE, such as South Korea and New Zealand, have reported several deaths in nursing homes. The PPE shortage in the United States has been going on for months and is expected to worsen the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, due to structural problems in the US medical supply chain.



As a graduate in operations management whose research touches the health care supply chain, I am interested in the shortcomings of PPE. I began to learn how to make the US medical supply chain more resilient and agile in a future pandemic.

In my opinion, those involved in the medical supply chain must learn a lot from the surprising place, the fashion industry.


Lack of transparency

My study with Ge Bai and Gerard Anderson shows that the US PPE supply chain suffers from a lack of fundamental transparency.

PPE producers do not report supply chain information to the FDA other than the location of their production facilities. Our extensive examination of their financial reporting did not find any information that could be quantified. Media also doesn’t help much.


PPE producers also rarely report basic supply chain information to their customers. In most cases, hospitals only know the companies they contract directly – also known as “tier 1 suppliers” – and health care providers sometimes do not know PPE suppliers even after giving birth.

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But the lack of transparency is not unique to the health care industry. The fashion industry has been experiencing the same pain for a long time.

Many fashion brands don’t know where and how their clothes are made, because they have an extensive global supplier network that often subcontracts to other suppliers without their knowledge. Even if they do, they have no incentive to disclose their supply chain data to the public.


After a fire

Lack of transparency kills. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, a November 2012 fire in a garment factory killed more than 100 people, followed by another fire in April 2013 that killed more than 1,100.

These factories operate for major international brands under poor working conditions. However, without transparency, the public cannot hold a brand to account. As a result, these brands invest little in improving the often hazardous labor practices of their suppliers.

In response to the fire, the fashion industry began efforts to increase supply chain transparency through the Fashion Transparency Index, which ranks major brands based on how much they know where and how their products are made and how far they want to share this information with the public.

Since its launch in 2017, the average transparency score of almost 100 brands including has increased by 12 points, with more brands revealed through the publication of their processing facility companies, raw material suppliers and other important supply chain information.

Prevents pandemic failure

The fashion industry has offered valuable lessons for increasing supply chain transparency.

The Fashion Transparency Index covers a variety of performance metrics, including whether fashion brands “know, show, and improve” their supply chain weaknesses. Transparency indexes for medical supply chains may not be so comprehensive but, at the very least, need to measure how transparent PPE producers are about their supply chain’s important information.

This level of end-to-end transparency is important because the production of special PPE such as N95 masks depends on important ingredients that currently have very little in the US.

Transparency creates incentives for producers to build domestic capacity. Enough domestic production capacity for important medical supplies such as N95 masks will ensure critical raw materials, human capital, and technical knowledge are available to increase production in times of global health emergencies.

Improved end-to-end transparency of the PPE supply chain will enable governments, health service providers and the community to assess supply chain weaknesses and encourage producers to improve them.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/what-us-medical-supply-chain-can-learn-from-the-fashion-industry-141580.




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