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Saving lives using cold supply chain solutions

: Monday, April 28 - 2014 @ 12:50
Sami Hammoudeh, director of Aramex’s biocare division, discusses the growth of clinical specimen transportation in the Mena region

The market for global healthcare services is growing exponentially. Spending on healthcare is now forecast to exceed $3 trillion by 2015, with countries such as China and India becoming increasingly influential markets. This impressive global growth is being mirrored across the Mena region. The GCC region’s healthcare market alone is now projected to reach $44 billion by 2015. The UAE is a primary driver of this growth, having also taken specific steps to drive the development of its healthcare sector through the creation of the world’s first healthcare freezone, the Dubai Healthcare City.

Rising populations, increasingly urban and affluent middle class, medical advances and an enhanced appetite for consumer spending on healthcare are all driving growth in the Mena healthcare sector.  However, part of this growth has been the result of the outsourcing of diagnostic testing and patient treatment, enabling clinical specimens or medical samples to be sent to different countries for testing and receive more remote treatment.

Such treatments are possible due to frequently overlooked cold supply chain solutions. Cold supply chain is the process by which clinical specimens, such as blood and tissue samples, fluids and medications, are moved safely at controlled temperatures to and from laboratories, hospitals, clinics and pharmaceutical companies, providing patients with rapid and accurate diagnoses and medications direct from specialist centres across different countries.

Given the region’s arid climate and the distance between urban centres and clinics, these end-to-end, temperature-controlled delivery services are critical to maintaining the quality and integrity of medications and samples, and a number of hospitals and laboratories across the region are now increasingly demanding these services. The National Guard Health Affairs Hospital in Saudi Arabia, for example, requires temperature-controlled, next-day delivery of samples and specimens, both nationally and throughout the GCC region. These services have also become a vital element in fighting cancer and are used for transporting clinical specimens from Libya to the King Hussein Cancer Centre in Jordan for diagnoses. In each case, cold supply chain solutions are helping to provide patients with the treatments they need from across the region. This trend for outsourcing diagnostic testing and remote patient treatment will continue to grow, fuelled by the high cost of local diagnostics and technologies and the availability of skilled medical staff, creating an increased demand for these solutions.

However, despite these positive trends and the substantial recent growth in the industry, there are two key challenges that continue to impact the further development of the Mena healthcare industry.

The first challenge is the increasingly urgent need to streamline customs clearance rules and regulations at national borders for clinical specimens and medical samples. Customs laws are not uniform across the region, meaning that moving medical supplies across borders can be difficult. Ensuring uniform custom clearance rules across the region would significantly aid the rapid movement of these temperature- and time-sensitive test results, medicines and samples across national boundaries. This is both critical to treating patients effectively and saving lives.

The second challenge is the current need for approved, streamlined regulations for packing and shipping clinical specimens and medical samples from one place to another. The lack of centralised and approved guidelines for local clinics and other healthcare providers across the Mena region means that samples are often damaged due to incorrect packing and handling, which, in turn, affects the accuracy of diagnosis or medications, often leading to extra costs for additional trials. With blood samples that have been packaged or delivered incorrectly, for example, haemolysis – the disintegration of red blood cells – can result not only in additional costs for retaking and reshipping and a lack of trust in healthcare providers, but, more importantly, potentially fatal delays for patients needing diagnoses.

Driving regulatory reforms around these customs clearance processes and packaging and shipping guidelines, in particular, will be crucial for the growth of the Mena healthcare sector. The responsibility for initiating and implementing such reforms must be jointly shared by governments and private healthcare institutions, ensuring the challenges in shipping and receiving clinical specimens and medical samples are addressed effectively.

With 15 mega hospital projects currently under way across the GCC region, cold supply chain services will become increasingly important in the success of the region’s ambitious healthcare agenda, playing a vital role in transporting and shipping valuable medical supplies. Successfully addressing these transportation challenges in the sector will not only support patients and save lives, it will also support the sustainable development of the industry. Cold supply chain may be frequently overlooked, but its importance should not be underestimated.

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Monday, April 28- 2014 @ 12:50 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.

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