The world’s most vulnerable suffer at the hands of global shipping issues

At the close of 2021 we experienced significant challenges in shipping medicines to the world’s most vulnerable, as global container and HGV driver shortages, crippled the sector. This, coupled with escalating costs due to increased demand and fuel price hikes, means that those most in need are suffering the life-threatening fallout. As we head into a new year, this doesn't look set to change.

“The ongoing challenges facing the logistics sector are having a devastating impact on the lives of those already vulnerable because of a lack of access to medicine,” says Colleen Harrisson-Dodds, Director of Logistics at IHP. “Our ability to book shipments has been dramatically reduced and all our collections are impacted by the current shortages of HGV drivers, meaning there is less availability to collect and move shipments and increased costs as a result. This has meant that we’re either significantly delayed in shipping medicines to partners or are having to postpone shipments of vital medicine altogether until costs come down. Healthcare facilities in low and middle-income countries that rely heavily on donated medicines are facing stockouts and unable to treat patients.”

Around the world, two billion people lack access to essential medicines. We work to improve access to medicine for vulnerable communities by coordinating and shipping donated medicines from the healthcare industry to NGO partners working in areas of need around the world.

Due to the shortages, lead times on sea freight operations have jumped from two to five weeks on average and costs have increased significantly. This has also begun to affect airfreight, as businesses move to other modes of transport, again impacting availability and costs. In the UK this is further compounded by local factors such as BREXIT and fuel shortages.

In some cases, shipping businesses are capitalising on the increased need by raising prices, pricing out smaller clients like IHP. Following the earthquake in Haiti in August 2021, this made some of IHP’s planned shipments untenable. Costs increased by over 170%, with an air freight shipment of five pallets of medicine to Haiti previously costing between £5,000 to £7,500, costing more than £17,000 the week following the quake.

The combination of increased shipping times and rising costs is directly affecting small NGOs like IHP, and ultimately vulnerable patients are paying the price. “More must be done by governments to address the issues facing the logistics and shipping industry and to recognise the impact it is having on the humanitarian sector. We must work together to prevent those already unable to access the healthcare they need from being cut out of the supply chain altogether,” adds Harrisson-Dodds.

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