The Zika Panic and its Effects on the Supply Chain

Meagan Douglas
Tue, May 3, 2016
Viruses spread around the world by mosquitoes hurt supply chains.
Viruses spread around the world by mosquitoes hurt supply chains.

Possible disease outbreaks have a disruptive effective around the globe. Not only does news of viruses or other health scares prevent people from traveling, but it can stall movement in the worldwide supply chain. Recently, concern over the Zika virus affects harvesting and manufacturing in Africa and shipments around the world, according to Computerworld.

Rumors are enough to stall some supply chains. There are stories of workers refusing to return to business locations where the disease was detected and companies have to deal with consumers wary of buying goods from specific regions. Using the Zika virus example, organizations should see that accurate data is the best solution for any form of panic that affects manufacturing and supply.

The Zika Virus
While not normally fatal, the Zika virus has caught the world's attention. The illness is spread by infected mosquitos and its symptoms are often overlooked, according the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since most people develop a mild case, there are fears populations will unknowingly spread the virus through travel or other activities. If children, the elderly or people with compromised immune systems contract Zika disease, it could prove deadly. Also, pregnant women with the illness are at risk for birth defects.

As of now, there are Zika outbreaks in West Africa and South America, with a few cases in the U.S. West Africa has seen the greatest number of infections. To stem the African epidemic, numerous global agencies plan to send supplies and humanitarian aid. Local populations seek treatment at pop-up centers and avoid locations associated with infection.

This has caused local businesses to lose customers and employees. Manufacturers and other companies who receive parts and supplies from African regions should expect delays as businesses try to reopen and shipping routes need to avoid gridlock caused by the Zika virus. While it's too soon to forecast how this disease will affect the overall African economy, MarketWatch compared it to the Ebola outbreak of a few years ago, which decreased projected sub-Saharan African economic growth by 10 percent.

Fear a Major Obstacle
The recent Zika outbreak in South and Central America is problematic for an economy that was already in trouble. Fear of disease can create substantial obstacles for nations that rely on food production. Workforces afraid to harvest crops and global fears of supplies coming from infected regions may deal substantial blows to South American markets.

However, experts predict the Zika outbreaks in the Americas probably won't reach the severity of the West African cases. Developed countries don't usually have the same problem with mosquitoes and other health hazards as regions with poor infrastructure and government oversight. Spend Matters suggested Western companies would be wise to share all available data with the public about the limitations of Zika's threat and what businesses do to safeguard their people.

Sharing Data 
Being honest with workers and customers about potential infection risks calls for accurate information. Companies should seek out government recommendations and studies and decide where to move supplies and products. Employees can use data collection systems to communicate where materials go and if they ever encounter problematic areas or events. This is especially important for businesses that work around standing water or other environments that attract mosquitoes. Employees in the field should have access to technology like mobile data collection devices so they can submit data related to actions as they happen and managers can compare information to safety standards and regulations. 

Managers can also use data to plan alternatives when disease outbreaks or other disruptive events restrict access to supply chains. Inventory management professionals can profit from a 360-degree view of available resources when one location is unable to perform. Consistent data records are also important for communicating with partners around the globe and creating alternative plans to avoid potential risk.

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