Improving life-saving blood delivery to disaster-hit areas

A Portsmouth researcher is developing a mathematical model aimed at speeding up the delivery of life-saving blood to victims of earthquakes and other disasters.

Dr Xiang Song hopes her work will reduce blood wastage and loss of life by increasing the chance of supplies reaching communities by the best routes with the most effective form of transportation in the quickest time possible.

The University of Portsmouth lecturer has received a prestigious Royal Society International Exchanges Grant of £9600 for the research which will see her constructing an algorithm that can inform venue and location for temporary blood donation centres, blood transportation route and quantities delivered.

Her work will be based on data collected from the Wenchuan earthquake of 2008 which affected the mountainous region of Sichuan province in Southwest China and resulted in the loss of more than 69,000 lives.

Dr Song said: “Natural disasters cause enormous human and economic losses and disruption and their impact is increasing. In many earthquake disasters, the most critical factor for the wounded can be that blood becomes a scarce resource due to damaged transport infrastructure, the failure of blood banks in the affected areas and the challenge of accurately forecasting the large fluctuation in blood demand.”

The unpredictable nature of disasters leads to sudden and sporadic demands for blood, a precious resource that needs to be stored carefully, transported efficiently and utilised rapidly before it perishes.

Dr Song added: “Decision-makers can only make decisions on the amount and the location of blood to collect and the routes to delivery based on their experience, which may not always be effective in new situations. For example, in the disaster relief for the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, there was significant blood wastage caused by excessive and unbalanced types of collection and ineffective transport planning.

“As a result, we realised that it is vital to design a resilient supply chain system to meet the demand for blood in time while simultaneously minimising the blood wastage in disaster relief.”

The aim of Dr Song’s study, The Resilient Blood Chain Supply System Design for Disaster Relief, is to improve a decision support tool used to manage massive disaster relief efforts. These systems allow rescuers to co-ordinate supplies by delivering from the most conveniently placed hospital, along the quickest routes to the areas most desperately in need. The aim of the research is to explore how the decision achieved through the software can be continuously updated according to the real-time updated blood demand in the specific region and under the changing circumstances.

Dr Song is working with Professor Xiao Liu in the School of Mechanical Engineering in Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Professor Liu runs several projects that are interlinked with the concepts of resilient supply chain network design and emergency and risk management.

Dr Song is a member of the Logistics, Operational Research, and Analytics Group (LORA) in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Portsmouth.  Members of the group work on the “Science of Better”, solving challenges that governments and organisations face to make their activities more effective, more efficient, and more sustainable.

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