Pharma.Aero recently published a White Paper featuring Uruguay as a prime example of what can happen when all stakeholders in the supply chain come together to tackle a logistical challenge by applying the Theory of Constraints. The result? “Uruguay is the only country in the world to use its airport as a storage, preparation, and distribution center,” following a LEAN, smooth-functioning solution.
When it comes to pharma, MVD Free Airport at Uruguay’s main airport, Aeropuerto Internacional de Carrasco, in Montevideo (MVD), has long established itself as a center of excellence (CFG reported). In 2020 alone, it handled US$ 670
million in transiting pharmaceutical products, and has attracted the attention of numerous international cooperations: most recently, the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, announced on
17SEP21, that it would be setting up its regional Southern Cone distribution center, within the state-of-the-art pharma handling facilities at the MVD Free Airport. So, it comes as no surprise
that the airport has been showcased in the recent Phara.Aero White Paper looking at a well-functioning COVID-19 logistics model.
Uruguay’s COVID-19 results
To date, Uruguay has successfully vaccinated 79% of its population. Not only did it manage this within the space of 6 months, but globally it is in sixth place on the list showing the world’s countries and percentage of population vaccinated – no mean feat for the country that, according to the Pharma.Aero press release, was “the last South American country to kick-start the COVID19 vaccination campaign”. The distribution process that has been set up, ensures that vaccines reach the arm of the patient within 10 hours of leaving the port, “saving at least a day in the supply chain,” the release emphasizes.
“Lean Logistics for Vaccines”
That success is down to a joint project to establish an efficient, functioning COVID-19 vaccine distribution strategy: “Lean Logistics for Vaccines”. MVD Free Airport collaborated with Pharma.Aero, as the NPO with industry expertise, Pfizer, as one of the key vaccine manufacturers, and other Pharma.Aero members such as Brussels Airport, and packaging specialist, Vac-Q-Tec. The multidisciplinary project team also included stakeholders from the public and the private sectors in Uruguay. Together, they developed the innovative and integrated distribution strategy, in which Carrasco International Airport (Montevideo, Uruguay) played a core role. Uruguay became the first country in the world to use its airport’s Pharma HUB facility for a major part of the logistics process. Eng. Bruno Guella, Managing Director – Cargo at Carrasco International Airport, said: “Using the airport as a center for storage, preparation and direct distribution of the ultra-cold COVID-19 vaccines is an innovative approach. We are very proud to be working alongside with both the public and private sectors in Uruguay for this humanitarian project.”
Expertise coupled with a perfect location
Uruguay’s Minister of Public Health, Dr. Daniel Salinas, applauded: “It was a wise move to choose the airport for the storage and handling of the COVID-19 vaccines, which require ultra-cold conditions. It has allowed for quick implementation and avoided cold chain failures.”
Establishing the airport as the heart of the distribution chain “not only resulted in time savings, but also created a secured and efficient centralization of the vaccine inventory management, as well as provided greater flexibility and reliability to the country’s vaccination campaign.”
Theory of Constraints
The Theory of Constraints (TOC) is one of the management methods developed by the Israeli physicist, Eliyahu Goldratt, which builds on the theory that the rate of goal achievement in any process is limited by at least one constraint. Once that constraint is identified, the next steps are “exploit”, “subordinate”, “elevate”, and “repeat”. In other words, you are as effective as your weakest link. In this case, the constraint in getting people vaccinated, was the number of vaccines available at any one point. So, the exploitation was to ensure that those vaccines available were used to their full potential (i.e., avoiding the loss of any vaccine doses), at the same time making sure that all the supporting components such as the ultra-cold freezers, vaccination centers, refrigerated boxes, means of transport, etc. are able to deal with the number of vaccines. With the arrival of more vaccines, the Constraint Theory process was to be repeated to ensure maximum performance of the logistics model at all times. “The flexibility of the operations design helped us adapt the plan as new challenges arouse. In addition, the inter-institutional collaboration was pivotal in reducing inefficiencies, margin of error, and lead times. This was key to the success of our vaccination plan,” Lic. Jose Luis Satdjian, Vice-Minister of Public Health of Uruguay, stated. Alongside the physical requirements to keep the vaccines stored at the respective temperatures along the entire chain, another core element for success in the tightly planned vaccination distribution, was the use of digital data to monitor vaccine numbers at each location and ensure efficiencies in restocking on a daily basis. “The information system integration of different entities involved in the supply chain was essential for the planning, executing, and managing of the COVID-19 vaccines distribution. One of the lessons learned by the team in Uruguay is that the integration of information systems is vital and should be developed at an early stage to allow for better planning and visibility,” the press release concludes.
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