Millions have been spent in research to combat malaria on the medical front. Hokey Min of the College of Business Administration, at Bowling Green State University, in Ohio, USA, tackled the problem from another perspective - logistics.
Malaria kills 1.1 million people every year and affects 300 million with severe illness. The vast majority of those infected are children under the age of five years. The enormous problem of getting anti-malarial drugs to those at risk across Africa is one of economics, politics and infrastructure.
It is these problems of archaic logistics infrastructure, inefficient distribution channels and disruptive black markets that must all be addressed urgently if Africa is to cope with the growing problem of malaria, according to a study published in the International Journal of Logistics Systems and Management.
Min has developed a comprehensive supply chain map that reveals the labyrinths of African logistics infrastructure, distribution channels, government regulations and business customs. This map could help improve access to anti-malarial drugs as well as avoiding disruption to the drug supply chain.
His study shows several challenges typically encountered in Africa - communication difficulties, seasonal variations in logistics infrastructure and a high rate of theft and damage during storage and transit. This is difficult for companies to deal with when distributing anti-malarial drugs, hence his suggestion to rather outsource logistical functions.
In addition, African legal and ethical codes have many "subtleties" he says, so it is potentially beneficial to find local partners that can assist with such subtleties. Local knowledge of the poor roads suggests local transport options, such as donkey carts and bicycles, should also be considered as modes of distribution, rather than a company expecting to transport antimalarials to rural areas in trucks.
Recognising the idiosyncrasies of drug distribution in Africa is essential to coping with the lethal problem of malaria.
"Supply chain efficiency for distribution of anti-malarial drugs is a matter of life and death to many malaria-endemic countries in Africa," says Min.