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Not very many of us reflect on the impact that logistics and supply chain management have on every aspect of our day to day lives. These complementary functions are responsible for getting the right goods, to the right place at the right time, in the most cost-effective manner.

In the normal course of events, poor logistics, a disrupted or inefficient supply chain causes inconvenience and added expense. In a disaster it costs lives.

In the UK, there is no clearer example of this than the issue of PPE shortages for front-line health sector staff. It has exposed doctors and nurses to unacceptable risk and is, to the general public, one of the most frustrating and incomprehensible failures of the UK Government’s Coronavirus response. In an article on the subject last week, the Spectator magazine wrote: “Supply chain management – a subject that ministers might previously only have read about as a cure for insomnia – is now an urgent issue.”

In their most recent press briefing, the UK Government assured the public that they were creating “a supply logistics and distribution network of unprecedented scale” to address this aspect of the response.

The UK is not the only country that has been beset with logistics and supply chain issues. The US, Italy, Spain, France have all suffered. What their experiences have proved, if proof were needed, is that efficient logistics enables and supports the medical intervention. Inefficient logistics hampers it; and this is true of all disaster responses. Logistics and supply chain management are the equally important but rarely seen, other half of the response.

With the advantage of learning from the mistakes of other countries’, Sierra Leone has no excuse not to get its Coronavirus logistics strategy right: although I think we have to take a wider view than other countries, in our planning.

Firstly, Sierra Leone’s Coronavirus logistics strategy has to look well beyond sourcing and distributing PPE and medical supplies, essential though these are, and tackle the inevitable negative impact of the pandemic on daily life. Everything will be disrupted – infrastructure, services and supply chains, and we will need to address the hardship and human suffering created, if we expect the general population to respond to measures intended to limit the spread of the virus.

Secondly, in developing a workable Coronavirus logistics and supply chain strategy, the experience of Sierra Leone’s local logistics and supply chain sector and their role as stakeholders and implementers must be recognised and clearly represented. The private sector’s skills and know-how can plug gaps in government supply chains and make the overall process more efficient. Their hands-on knowledge would be useful in everything from designing strategies to facilitate the clearance of essential cargo through the Ports, to maintaining the smooth distribution of essentials (water, fuel, food, medicines etc) throughout the country.

If global shipping disruptions affect food imports, the pressure on local food production will increase. In this situation, quick-wins such as reducing post-harvest losses and more efficient distribution, would benefit from the knowledge and input of our private sector.

Furthermore, there is a clear need to nurture institutional knowledge and disaster management skills within the country. Sierra Leone is not the only country that struggles with preparedness, and by building capacity at a national and local level, and in both the private and public sectors, we can improve the quality and speed of future disaster relief efforts.

The Coronavirus epidemic will not last forever, but its impact will be considerable. In the event it prompts a review of our national development plans, it would be useful if we acknowledged the need for a vibrant and internationally competitive local logistics sector, one that can really maximise the potential of our investment in infrastructure, and contribute to the economy in the good times as well as the bad.

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