Not many work environments are as turbulent as that of Doctors Without Borders. The organisation not only supplies medical care but also food, tents, water and sanitation facilities in approximately 80 countries. This humanitarian aid is offered in conflict areas and also in disaster areas caused by nature or by the outbreak of diseases.
The situation in such an area can be very versatile which causes major logistical challenges. That is why Doctors Without Borders (MSF) needed more control over the delivery process. I spoke to Marcel Langenbach about how MSF deals with these logistical challenges. In this interview he talks about the core conditions for the logistical processes in humanitarian aid.
Marcel Langenbach is Head of Logistics of the MSF-Amsterdam operational center (MSF-OCA).
Flexible respons to changing situations
The medical humanitarian emergency aid provided by MSF regularly takes them to countries or areas where they are not yet present. But a supply situation can also change quickly in existing crisis and war zones. Marcel: “Then you have to be able to act quickly. On the one hand, this requires a logistics service provider that is not too large, so that the lines are short. On the other hand, your partner must be of sufficient size to operate cost-efficiently. We were therefore looking for a provider with a “hands-on” mentality who could respond quickly and adequately to developments in the delivery areas. For example by quickly arranging other supply routes, which sometimes require other modes of transport. The partner must also be able to deal flexible with changing purchasing, storage and transport volumes. Consider the current situation in Tigray, Ethiopia with refugee flows to Sudan. This crisis has suddenly erupted and we have to set up our emergency relief operations over there in a short time and deliver supplies to them.”
Extensive network of agents and carriers
On the one hand, relief supplies often have to be on site as quickly as possible. On the other hand, MSF also works in somewhat more stable situations where the predictability is better and the delivery time can be slightly longer. Of course, an organization such as MSF must be able to fully justify the costs involved at all times, so there is always a trade-off between effectiveness and efficiency. Marcel: “That is why it is important that the logistics service provider has an extensive network of agents and carriers. Furthermore, our partner’s network must be able to organize any type of transport: from transport by sea container to air freight and road transport. And (temperature) conditioned where necessary.”
Comply with Good Distribution Practice
Extensive European guidelines have been drawn up to guarantee the quality of medicines in the distribution chain from manufacturer to patient. In this regard, wholesalers and logistics companies who deal with pharmaceuticals must be licensed and must comply with strict regulations. This is referred to as Good Distribution Practices (GDP) and thus applies to the entire process from purchase / import to storage and export of pharmaceutical materials. Marcel: “Our logistics service provider must therefore also meet the requirements of GDP. Part of this is, for example, that through decommissioning (according to the FMD, Falisified Medicine Directive), serialization (according to MDR, EU Medical Device Regulations) and barcode scanning, products with which something is wrong can be recalled at batch level.”
Continuous improvement of business processes
“We were not only looking for a partner who can help us with storage and transportation of goods, but who can also help us improve the delivery processes. A partner with expertise and innovative power in different types of supply chains. Who knows how we can make our work even more LEAN and how to translate these process improvements into the adjustments of IT solutions. Consider for example the pick & pack process. The challenge here is that part of the goods for a shipment is often in stock and another part is yet being purchased. ” It results in parallel processes that must be properly coordinated. There are several separate flows that need to be brought together and optimized. Like for example the handling of customs goods (for which no import duties have to be paid after delivery in the Netherlands because they are forwarded to crisis areas). ”
Connecting different systems
The Warehouse Management System of the logistics partner obviously had to be linked to the ERP system of MSF-OCA. But there is more to it: The cooperation in the worldwide MSF organisation also includes its own MSF logistics centers and hubs with their own IT systems. In addition to that it is sometimes necessary or simply better to purchase goods locally or regionally in the countries where we provide emergency relief. The WMS and communication via EDI must also be adapted accordingly. Marcel: “It is important that our partner has a system for serialization and scanning of thousands of articles. The clearing and decommissioning of goods in the countries of destination must also be arranged via the network. Whereby all legal requirements must be met of course.”
Status of the collaboration with VCK Logistics
“We have started working with VCK in mid-June because the company meets all these requirements. That is the foundation for organizing our logistics operations even better and making them predictable. Meanwhile, VCK has set up a new warehouse for us from which the operations are being supplied. Obviously, every transition has its start-up problems but we see that the “can-do” mentality is very valuable; the challenges are tackled immediately and we quickly make progress in shaping our partnership. Finally I’d like to mention one more element that we as a medical humanitarian organization are sympathetic to, namely VCK’s commitment to medical care. The company has been providing financial support to research at various medical academic centers for many years. ”
Naturally, other organizations also want to make their logistics operations more predictable. VCK has done research to the extent in which companies in The Netherlands succeed in this and which points are important in this respect.