Sunday, 20 February 2011

#LoveSafely


The #LoveSafely hashtag was introduced on Valentine’s Day by the joined UN programme on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS, to utilise social media to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS. It was used by over one million tweeters! Mission accomplished? No! Much more needs to be done in the fight against HIV/AIDS. One of the major problems encountered in delivering relief food in Africa is a lack of truck drivers. Number one reason for that is AIDS. The truck drivers represent a whole industry that is fighting to survive and, without them, many businesses within Africa cannot be sustained. Ending the spread of HIV and therefore securing the transport sector in Africa is about education, access to health care, and making sure that we all #LoveSafely. That is what the North Star Alliance (NSA) is aiming at by providing health care services in a number of Roadside Wellness Centres, which are strategically set up across the African continent.

As part of our Optimising the World programme, ORTEC partners with the NSA. Last week I had a talk with Luke Disney, the executive director of NSA. We discussed the challenges NSA has, many of which I belief can be solved with the use of Operations Research. The past years of AIDS prevention have been on scaling up. Primary focus was on getting antiretroviral drugs (ARV) out there, training people and setting up healthcare centres no matter what the cost. This way of providing care will eventually hit a wall, donors and governments will not be able to supply the required funds forever. The recent financial crisis already had its impact on the funds available in support of the fight against AIDS in Africa. As Luke indicated in our talk there is still a lot of ground to cover to reach out to everybody in need of care, but there is only a limited number of people and resources. OR can help to start using the available resources as efficient as possible.

A news item from the Uganda newspaper the Monitor of 2007 shows that the challenges in HIV/AIDS prevention/care are not much different from the supply chain challenges we as OR professionals solve for our customers.

Entebbe — AS thousands of Ugandans die everyday of HIV/Aids and malaria, drugs worth about Shs4 billion are rotting in the National Medical Stores Entebbe. While on their fact finding tour of NMS in Entebbe yesterday, MPs on the Social Services Committee led by James Kubeketerya (Bunya East) were shocked to find eight containers of 2- feet, full of expired drugs yet Ugandans are perishing in hospitals without treatment

Straight forward Inventory management and forecasting the need for ARV drugs could have prevented the available drugs to be wasted and shows that the OR community needs to get involved. The Center for Strategic HIV Operations Research (CSHOR) is one of them. But more is needed, focussing on tactical and operational issues as well.

Together with Luke we decided to start a project to help NSA develop a strategy on how to best extend the wellness centre network in Africa. It is not as straightforward as a normal location problem as you might think, but than again which practical OR challenge is? The wellness centres focus on truck drivers, sex workers and local communities at truck stops and border crossings. At the wellness centres basic healthcare can be offered. For more advanced care people have to be redirected to a nearby hospital. In deciding were to locate the next wellness centre this needs to be taken into account. Also NSA is not the only NGO in Africa. It doesn’t make sense to open a new wellness centre in the vicinity of another centre that offers similar care. Last but not least, since the wellness centre offers care to the local communities, the accessibility of the wellness centre is important as well. Many people travel by foot so it should be close enough for the people to be able to reach it. These are just a few conditions that we know that need to be satisfied; in the project many more will surface.

First step we will take is gathering the relevant data and do a survey to better understand the current situation and develop some basic ideas to develop the network expansion strategy. NSA aims to cover 85% of cross border traffic in sub-Saharan Africa by 2013. I committed myself to support Luke and his team to make that happen. I’ll keep you informed on our progress in a next blog entry. With the support of OR, NSA will be able to offer the required education and safeguard access to healthcare to mobile workers and make sure that we all #LoveSafely.

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