A new mapping tool is making medical supply chains more transparent and trades easier to finance by listing the suppliers of critical Covid-19 goods, including masks, gowns and ventilators, as well as the manufacturers of components that make those products, and the banks that finance them, across the world.

The tool, developed and launched by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) trade and supply chain finance programmes, maps entire supply chains for products vital to frontline healthcare workers, including N95 respirators, face shields, goggles, aprons, surgical masks and gowns.

It enables governments, banks, investors and healthcare professionals to trace the companies that make each component in products such as ventilators, down to the metal and rubber that goes into each part.

“To fix any supply chain problems, we need an in-depth description of what goes into these products and which companies are involved,” says ADB’s head of trade and supply chain finance Steven Beck. “Mapping these supply chains means that if help is needed, banks, investors, and governments can use the data to quickly relieve bottlenecks and ramp up supplies.”

He adds that the tool also makes it easier for banks or investors to finance a company struggling to meet increased demand because of liquidity issues.

For example, if a shortage of rubber gaskets is holding up the production of ventilators, the tool could be used to find the companies making those gaskets, as well as information detailing the size and turnover of them, their location, and how many people they employ. It shows which banks the companies use, providing further information on how to dismantle barriers to financing.

“What this is doing is making people aware of where the companies are in the Covid-19 supply chain and allowing banks to finance those organisations,” says Rebecca Harding, independent economist and CEO of Coriolis Technologies, one of the data sources of the new tool. “It’s enabling the banking sector to step up and finance these companies.”

Over a period of seven weeks from April 1, ADB’s trade and supply chain finance programmes supported more than 1,087 transactions valued at US$688mn, with supply chain support extended for 19 medical or pharmaceutical transactions worth more than US$5.5mn.

But it is not just the medical supply chain which could benefit from mapping. Pointing to the energy and food sectors, Harding says: “They will become incredibly important over the coming months because there will be food shortages, and this is going to affect people’s lives. We need to use big data techniques to ease this, so we can start to lift the lid on those supply chains.

“In a big data world, saying you can’t do it because of complexity is an excuse. There should be far more effort across other supply chains to do this.”


Export bans and Covid-19 scams

A lack of understanding and transparency over which companies make what products and where has led some countries to ban the export of medical supplies and other products.

As of May 29, 89 jurisdictions are reported to have executed a total of 156 export controls since the beginning of 2020, reports the Global Trade Alert team at Switzerland’s University of St Gallen.

In terms of medical supply chains, there are many different Covid-19 supplies needed to protect frontline workers and treat those infected with the virus, and where these supplies are produced varies widely. Bans on exports of domestically-made products do not fix the demand issue for supplies that need to be imported from elsewhere. The World Bank has warned against such action.

Mapping supply chains and making them more transparent could also help those buying, and banks financing, goods ensure a legitimate maker.

In April, the European Banking Authority (EBA) warned of the threat of Covid-19-related scams with regards to international trade. “There is already some evidence of increased levels of cybercrime, Covid-19-related frauds and scams targeting vulnerable people and companies, of fake fundraising campaigns and of criminal networks selling rationed goods at a higher price,” it said.

Later that month, Interpol revealed that a complex fraud scheme using compromised emails and advance payment fraud involving the sale of non-existent masks had been uncovered by financial institutions and authorities across Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands.