This period of uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic should be viewed as an opportunity to strengthen the global supply chain systems which the world has relied on so much, said Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Secretariat executive director Tan Sri Dr Rebecca Sta Maria.
“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,” she said in the APEC Bulletin.
She said although there are predictions about the effects of this pandemic, including whether it will reverse globalisation and erode trust in global supply chains, it is perhaps an opportunity to strengthen it.
“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,” she said.
This could mean setting clear-cut standards and comprehensive security programmes to build more resilient supply chains that facilitate steady flow of medicine, vaccines, and personal protective equipment, Sta Maria said.
“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, she said, has a number of tools in place that can help economies find such solutions. Specifically, there is 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.
This toolkit, established alongside regulators, industry stakeholders, representatives from non-governmental organisations, international organisations, and academics, aims to maximise the use of public and private partnerships and other available resources, she said.
All in all, the toolkit is intended to cover the entire supply chain and life cycle of medical products.
She said industry, policy makers, and regulators, like the World Health Organisation (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,” she said.
APEC, which has 21 members including Malaysia, is a regional economic forum established in 1989 to leverage the growing interdependence of the Asia-Pacific.