By Dr. Alexander Pinz
The provision of safe and high-quality blood and blood products is a significant challenge for blood establishments in times of crisis. Depending on the crisis at stake, blood demand may suddenly explode, e.g. with mass casualty events; or there will be shortages in blood supply because of infectious diseases (epidemics, pandemics), and environmental catastrophes (e.g. floods, droughts). In these situations, it is important that blood establishments can rely on adequate information and emergency plans, enabling them to ensure the continuous supply of blood and blood products to both the entire population, and the persons severely hit by the crisis. However, currently, blood establishments are rarely included in national or regional emergency management plans. They often lack adequate information technology, enabling them to foresee slowly emerging crises or to react appropriately to catastrophic events that suddenly happen. According to the participants in the CoordinatedBlood-Workshop, which took place in Berlin in September 2018, these challenges apply to the South African blood supply system, too.
To better prepare blood establishments for crises, the BISKIT-consortium—comprising eHealth & Information Systems Africa, the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut (German Federal Institute for Vaccines and Biomedicines), and the Working Group Inter-disciplinary Security Research (Free University Berlin), the European Research Center for Information Systems (University of Münster), and the Chair for Software & Digital Business (Technical University of Darmstadt)—has started the project Blood Information System for Crisis Intervention and Management, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The aim of this research project is to improve the supply of safe and quality-assured blood and blood products before, during, and after a crisis to the South African population. To achieve this objective, the consortium is going to
develop an information-system including a user-interface (demonstrator) for data-based decision-making,
develop crisis management plans and recommendations for crisis communication, and
organize and implement capacity building training on the use of the demonstrator.
To accomplish these objectives, we need an enormous amount of data. First, we have to map the South African blood transfusion as well as crisis management systems, including their major stakeholders. Second, we have to visualize the entire blood supply chain from vein to vein. Thus, we have to assess every single process step such as donor recruitment, donation, processing, and testing, transportation, and storage, as well as issuing of blood products. Also, we need GIS data on the locations of the relevant facilities like blood establishments, mobile clinics, hospitals, etc. Finally, we need quantitative data on the duration of each process step, the number of donors/donations, number of products, etc. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are not allowed to fly to South Africa to start our data collection process. So what can we do?
We exploited the digital tools available to us to start a virtual data collection process. Thus, we use video conference systems to implement key-informant interviews with relevant stakeholders of the South African blood transfusion and crisis management system. We store the data in a CKAN-portal that only members of the BISKIT consortium can access. To make the information obtained via these interviews available to the entire consortium, we transcribe the interviews with artificial intelligence software. We then analyze the anonymized transcripts with cloud-based as well as standard qualitative analysis software.
Having, so far, conducted 20 key informant interviews with persons responsible for different parts in the blood supply chain, and the crisis management system, we have t great insights into how the South African blood transfusion and crisis management systems work. We can use these insights to map the relevant actors and processes of the respective systems. In addition, we now have a notion of the different data available for upload. With this information, we start modeling the blood supply chain from a logistical perspective, and, thus, get the project started.