Strengthening Trust in Global Supply Chains

Singapore, 20 May 2020
  • Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria

The pandemic calls for improvement and urgency

We often take for granted how global supply chains have made modern life as convenient as it is. At a whim, we can go online and have anything—a book, an item of clothing, tools, medication—delivered from across town or even from around the globe. Our local markets and retailers are stocked with goods from everywhere, covering every desire or need which may arise during our day-to-day lives.

At the moment, we are living through a period of great need. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that global medical supply chains—crucial in the fight against this and future pandemics—may still have vulnerabilities, bottlenecks and integrity issues. Many around the world have not been spared shortages of medical equipment, medicines and basic protective equipment.

Given that the medical products industry has now become more specialized as well as globalized, many around the world increasingly rely on the global marketplace for basic health needs. And we’ve not seen this dependence in full effect as we do now, in light of COVID-19.

There are many predictions about the effects of this pandemic, including whether it will reverse globalization and erode trust in global supply chains. This period of uncertainty should be looked upon as an opportunity to strengthen the systems that we’ve grown to rely on so much over the years and more so now during a crisis.

This could mean setting clear-cut standards and comprehensive security programs to build more resilient supply chains that facilitate the steady flow of medicine, vaccines, and personal protective equipment. Done right, these measures will strengthen the credibility and transparency of these supply chains. Positive changes of this sort will go a long way in galvanizing trust in our system, processes and procedures, in so doing have us in a state of preparedness in the event of future health crises.

APEC has a number of tools in place that can help economies find such solutions. Specifically, an already existing supply chain security toolkit, which sets protocols and serves as a roadmap for the promotion of global medical product quality and supply chain security.

APEC initiatives are designed through and encourage cooperation, and are often conceived through consultation with multiple sectors. As a collection of economies that account for almost 60 percent of the world trade and 40 percent of its population, APEC itself is very diverse. This toolkit, established alongside regulators, industry stakeholders, representatives from nongovernmental organizations, international organizations, and academics, aims to maximize the use of public and private partnerships and other available resources.

All in all, the toolkit is intended to cover the entire supply chain and life cycle of medical products. This encompasses everything from the development and implementation (via training programs) of relevant processes, procedures, and tools to recommended best practices for the prevention and detection of substandard and falsified medical products before they reach consumers.

Industry, policy makers, and regulators, like the World Health Organization (WHO), now see the crucial and immediate need to address disruptions to the smooth flow and movement of medical supplies globally, as well as the appearance of illegitimate products. The implementation of the APEC supply chain security toolkit can surely make supply chains more secure. This toolkit, relevant as it is, was endorsed in 2017. Clearly there are still gaps that need to be filled and now is the best time to address them.

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Dr Sta Maria is the Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat