Global Sourcing, Supply Chain, and Bird Flu: Preparing for Pandemics

This post was co-authored by Jason Busch and Sydney Lazarus.

In the ten days since we published our PRO analysis on preventing supply chain risk, the death toll of China’s H7N9 epidemic—what prompted the analysis in the first place—has doubled from 11 people to 22. The epidemic has also recently claimed its first case outside Mainland China, sickening a Taiwanese businessman who, after a trip to Suzhou, is now hospitalized in critical condition.

Obviously, this is not the first time the world has seen a bird flu epidemic, but H7N9 is a highly lethal strain compared to other influenza viruses. The World Health Organization has called H7N9 “an unusually dangerous virus for humans.”

While H7N9 has not spread beyond China and Taiwan, it has impacted businesses around the world, with restaurants and hotels hit the hardest. Spend Matters PRO subscribers can check out our recommendations for a detailed preparedness supply chain checklist here: Beyond Bird Flu 2.0 – Inoculate Your Supply Base Against Supply Chain Risk.

It is our recommendation that procurement and supply chain practitioners not in the hospitality, food or CPG business should still follow the adage “better safe than sorry” for pandemic preparedness and the current Bird Flu situation, even if it never reaches pandemic levels (i.e., we could see significant supplier and logistics disruptions if governments decide to take divisive action to ward off an actual pandemic).

Aside from our detailed recommendations on Spend Matters PRO, we suggest the following high-level steps for organizations to take:

  • Preparing for potential pandemics in the supply chain should be a standard element of any global supply risk scenario forecasting and mitigation program.
  • Official information sources in the early stages of outbreaks in emerging markets such as China should not be relied upon as accurate.
  • Organizations need their own strategies for monitoring social media, local language publications, and other sources as part of coherent planning strategies to monitor potential outbreaks.
  • Your supply network is only as strong as its weakest link: consider nodes in the supply chain such as ports even if localized outbreaks don’t impact the location of your current suppliers at different tiers in the network.
  • Think about multi-tier visibility from the start. Your supplier’s suppliers are the ones most likely to create potential disruptions in the case of pandemic outbreaks.


We also recommend incorporating pandemic preparedness into overall supply chain risk management and vendor management programs. PRO subscribers can access additional Spend Matters research on the topic. Selected briefs include:


We’re also big fans of the potential of SAP Supplier InfoNet to address multitier visibility issues, including potential disruptions due to localized or regional issues. See:

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