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Propping up the front line

As COVID-19 rages across the world, DHL and its workers toil tirelessly to transport life-saving assistance and goods where they’re most needed.

Larry St. Onge, President of DHL’s Life Sciences and Healthcare sector

Despite having been released in 1964, Bob Dylan’s classic title track “The Times They Are a-Changin’” may never have been more apropos and prophetic than today. As I write this article, it is hard to truly define what a life sciences and healthcare company is anymore. In light of the urgent need to find ways to save lives worldwide, we have seen hundreds, even thousands of initiatives, both corporate and personal, to try to assist in the battle to thwart the rapid spread of COVID-19 and the associated loss of life, which has had such tragic impact around the globe. Certainly, many of those initiatives have included huge outlays of money, along with large donations of personal protective equipment (PPE), to support embattled healthcare workers who labor so perilously on the front lines treating patients in the race to save lives.

Nevertheless, along with financial commitments and tremendous donations of PPE, we have also seen other ingenious and incredible initiatives to support the hard-hit global healthcare system. Alcohol distillers, breweries, manufacturers of consumer goods and even cosmetics companies are now working to produce hand sanitizer and soaps to help prevent viral transmission. Fashion companies and retailers are actively leveraging their capabilities to produce personal protective equipment – primarily gowns and masks – to supplement the global supply, which has been so severely strained by this pandemic. As PPE and medical equipment manufacturers have open-sourced details on how to build ventilators, face masks and other critical items for healthcare and other essential workers, we are now seeing automotive and other equipment manufacturing companies redesigning lines to support the global need.

Of course, we are also seeing the convergence of some of the world’s leading technology companies, leveraging their artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to analyze the incredible amounts of data about COVID-19 from around the world. This collaboration of high-tech, biotechnology and biopharmaceutical companies, along with the World Health Organization and national health institutions, is searching for ways to accelerate the development of successful ways to combat the disease and, ultimately, an effective vaccine in order to prevent infection and transmission in the future.

The common link in almost all of these initiatives is finding a way to get the necessary PPE, medical devices and pharmaceutical treatments into the hands of the healthcare workers treating patients on the front lines. That is what our customers have asked DHL to try to do from day one. When China locked down Hubei province on January 23, DHL Express was working on behalf of a major medical device manufacturer to deliver ventilators to the embattled area within days in an effort to try to help save lives.

I can proudly say that throughout DHL, these efforts have continued every single day since the outbreak in China became the global pandemic we are now confronted with. Shortly after China expanded the lockdown to encompass the entire country, including Hong Kong, most major airlines discontinued services to and from China. This made the problem of moving healthcare supplies to China quite a challenge – but we have acted to support the sector with access to dedicated airfreight capacity. We initially moved thousands of tons of medical devices and pharmaceuticals from Europe and the U.S. into China – and now in the oppostie direction, as many tons of PPE, pharmaceuticals and medical devices move out to other countries each and every day.

The challenge has continued to grow, as much of the world’s airfreight capacity has disappeared with the temporary shutdown of passenger flights around the world. Nevertheless, we have been able to leverage our own dedicated flight capacity and secure additional market capacity to keep the healthcare supply chain moving throughout the world.

We are now actively transporting hundreds of tons of PPE, medical devices and pharmaceuticals across the globe each and every week on behalf of our customers. These efforts are not only limited to healthcare but are spread across all sectors, as companies pull out all the stops to make a contribution to this battle. DHL’s strategic imperative is “Connect People and Improve Lives” and this may never have been truer than it is today.

DHL’s battle is not restricted to transportation. We are finding ways to keep warehouses open and healthcare operations going in countries such as Italy, Singapore, India and others where conditions have been exceptionally challenging. In addition to the efforts against the COVID-19 global pandemic, as the southern hemisphere prepares for winter we are also being challenged to continue to support the compliant transportation of all the necessary vaccines to help prevent the spread of another influenza outbreak or other potentially crippling and dangerous condition.

I am amazed and humbled when I see the efforts being made by so many companies in the pharma and medical device industries in order to deliver critical supplies to medical teams and patients. And it is heartening to see how many other businesses are coming in to collaborate, join forces and provide support. If this crisis teaches us anything, it is that together we are stronger – and united, as collaborators and co-innovators, is how we will beat this pandemic.

Everyone in the DHL Healthcare System is committed and working as hard as possible to support the global healthcare system, and we could not be more committed or grateful for the opportunity to try to make a difference. — Larry St. Onge

Published: June 2020

Images: DHL; Michele Lapini/Getty Images; Yiu Yu Hoi/Getty Images