Socially Responsible Research Finds Ways to Improve Malaria Medicine Supply Chain

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there were about 219 million cases of malaria in 2012 leading to at least 660,000 deaths, the vast majority occurred in sub Saharan Africa. New research from Burak Kazaz, The Steven R. Becker Professor of Supply Chain Management, The Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor of Teaching Excellence and executive director of the H.H. Franklin Center for Supply Chain Management, and his co-authors, Scott Webster, the Bob Herberger Arizona Heritage Chair in Supply Chain Management at Arizona State University, and Prashant Yadav, director of healthcare research at the William Davidson Institute of the University of Michigan, outlines ways in which the malaria medicine supply chain can be stabilized to optimize production of the medicine to help save more lives. The study, recently accepted for publication in Production and Operations Management, shows the best way to ensure enough medicine is available is to improve agricultural yield of the plant used to make malaria medicine, Artemisia Annua.

The yield of Artemisia varies greatly year to year due to environmental factors and weather; farmers make decisions on whether to grow it or a more stable cash crop, such as corn. This contributes to great uncertainty in the supply and need for artemisinin, the main ingredient of the malaria medicine. Limited growth spikes artemisinin prices by six to seven times, leading to bigger volatilities in the supply chain for malaria medicine.

The authors develop supply chain models that examine the influence of factors such as available farm space, farmer’s self-interest, volatility in crop yield, volatility in demand and the introduction of semi-synthetic artemisinin on the level and volatility of medicine price and supply. They find that initiatives aimed at improving average yield, creating a support-price for agricultural artemisinin and a larger but carefully managed supply of semi-synthetic artemisinin have the greatest potential for improving supply and reducing price volatility of artemisinin-based malaria medicine.

“This work responds to the needs of multilateral agencies and philanthropic organizations that are considering and pursuing interventions that affect the availability and price of ACTs and its main ingredient artemisinin,” said Kazaz. “These organizations, such as the World Health Organization, UNITAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, would like to know where to invest their time and effort in order to create the highest positive impact in treating malaria.”

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