Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Blood Supply Chain in the Coronavirus Pandemic

Much has happened since my most recent blogpost on March 7, which celebrated the successful PhD defense of my student, Deniz Besik.

On March 11, 2020, WHO declared a pandemic due to the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness now known as COVID-19.

As an operations researcher, who does research on various network systems, including perishable product supply chains, with applications in healthcare - blood supply chains and pharma supply chains, I had already been following a multiplicity of disruptions as the coronavirus was spreading globally.

In addition to the supply chain disruptions, I have also experienced professional ones as have virtually all academics worldwide as well as students. 

I am on sabbatical now and was honored and delighted to have been invited to give seminars and plenary talks in multiple countries (Canada, France, Italy, and the USA, with others still on the horizon). These have all been postponed/cancelled causing not only disappointment but many foregone experiences, networking opportunities, and adventures.

But safety and health first, and we must do anything and everything in our power to mitigate the pandemic, and to flatten the curve.

I strongly believe that researchers, if at all possible, and if they have an inclination to do so, should write articles for the popular press. I saw the looming crisis in blood supply chains, having been following events in China and Iran, as closely as possible, because of COVID-19. I collected our relevant articles on blood supply chains (a topic we have been researching for the last decade), and impacts of disruptions, and wrote an Op Ed for The Conversation: How coronavirus is upsetting the blood supply chain https://theconversation.com/how-coronavirus-is-upsetting-the-blood-supply-chain-133424

The article has now been reprinted in numerous publications including: SALON, MarketWatch, NavyTimes, EconTimes, and many others. I have been contacted by individuals who wish to help out. I have reached out to medical professionals that I know at top medical facilities to see if plasma of those who have recovered from COVID-19 may be used as treatment, as has been tried in China, supposedly with some success, and is now being investigated at Johns Hopkins.

The research that we have done on the blood supply chain includes the modeling of the perishability of red blood cells; the investigation of a disruption due to a major disease outbreak, which would result in a decrease in eligible donors, as well as disruptions to capacities of testing and processing, that clearly can happen with personnel being quarantined and/or struck by the coronavirus now. Our papers have also explored competition for blood donors using game theory as well as the design of blood supply chains plus the modeling of multiple tiers and even the competition among blood service organizations. We have also worked on quantifying the potential synergy associated with the merging or teaming of blood service organizations as in the case of a disaster.

Also,  we wrote a book to unify some of the knowledge on perishable product supply chains.
It is important to note that respiratory viruses are not transmitted via blood and all those who have the facility and the capability should donate. Since my article in The Conversation was published, the situation has become even more dire with severe blood shortages being reported by the American Red Cross. Blood, unlike many other products, cannot be manufactured, but must be donated by willing donors. Blood service organizations need to make this process now as comfortable and as easy for donors, as possible, by expanding mobile unit coverage, for example.