It is hard to believe that the medical supply shortages which manifested a few weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic persist and have gotten worse in some cases. Ventilators, PPE and testing reagents are just a few of the critically needed medical supplies that the U.S. appears to be unable to get hold of in sufficient quantities. But why is this so?
In 2004, the administration of the day created the Strategic National Stockpile (“SNS”) with the aim of having a safety net during short-term emergencies, such as terrorist attacks. While this entity wasn’t designed or even equipped to handle an emergency of the scale of this current pandemic, they nevertheless should have been in position to alleviate some of these existing challenges. But they didn’t or haven’t. A number of glaring inadequacies could explain why the SNS hasn’t been of much help during this crisis.
Limited Clout and Visibility
Over the years, the sense of urgency that prompted the creation of the SNS has dwindled and subsequent administrations have allowed the agency to slide downwards on the list of critically needed teams.
For example, funding for restocking vital supplies has been cut almost every fiscal year, and this has left the SNS with no muscle to act when it deems fit.
Furthermore, the lack of clout has meant that even if the SNS raises an alarm about a situation, their voices aren’t given the attention they deserve. A clear example are the repeated warnings of SNS experts about the risks of globally significant diseases which have been ignored, and the strategic plan of SNS hasn’t been renewed since 2017.
More clout and greater visibility would have enabled this team to prevent some of the more severe effects of the medical supply shortages since their experts talked about these shortages from way back in January.
Inadequate Information Systems
A lot can be said about the inadequacy of the SNS’s information systems, but two examples will suffice. First, its data management system hasn’t been upgraded from 2004 from the time the agency was created. With the speed at which technology is changing, a 2004 information management system is obsolete!
The second example is that SNS staff have been seen using their smartphones to take pictures as evidence of supplies that they have received or dispatched. You can’t track critical supplies using just a photo, and it is therefore not surprising that badly needed medical supplies are in short supply across the country.
In short, the agency cannot “see” where supplies exist and where they are running out, so they can’t play their strategic supplies management role.
Crucial Expertise is Lacking
The job of tracking strategically needed medical supplies isn’t one that can be given to any person. Special expertise is needed. For example, the SNS lacks analysts to track the different supply chains of supplies that are deemed critical. If such an expert existed, the agency would have known that Wuhan, China is the major source of PPE and since it was the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, the world couldn’t expect to source its PPE from such a location. Alternative sourcing would have been quickly mobilized to save the U.S. from the shortages it has seen during this crisis.
Americans and biomedical entities like Predictive Oncology (NASDAQ: POAI) are left with a question: what is the way forward? Experts advise the federal government to look at the Department of Defense’s diverse teams that work under an apex leadership team to brief all related departments about any developments being tracked. If the SNS is given the clout and support it deserves together with the needed organizational restructuring, any future pandemic isn’t likely to hit the U.S. as badly as the COVID-19 crisis has.
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