JMU Supply Chain Club wraps up Congo Medical Relief Project

by Stephen Briggs

Bill Ritchie & the JMU Supply Chain Club Congo Medical Relief Project

Pictured: Professor Bill Ritchie with members of the JMU Supply Chain Club

Achieving a goal is always cause for pride in a job well-done, especially one that involves a global humanitarian effort. But meeting that goal and surpassing it by 100%? That’s how Dukes do it.

The JMU Supply Chain Club team and their advisor and professor of management Bill Ritchie recently loaded their second of two 40’ containers filled with much needed medical supplies destined for Africa. Along with Dr. Mark Smith, executive director of local nonprofit Mihret Medical Supply Group, the group were finishing up a humanitarian project that was a year in the making, called the Congo Ebola Medical Relief project. 

In the fall of 2019, the JMU Supply Chain Club (officially the Association of Supply Chain Management, Shenandoah Chapter, formerly APICS) leadership team met with Smith and developed the goal to source, store and ship medical equipment and supplies to African hospitals dealing with the Ebola crisis. At the time, they hoped to find enough supplies to fill one 40’ shipping container.

They started by approaching Mike Hendrickson, COO of Matchbox Realty, who donated space to warehouse the supplies, and the team loaded it with exam tables and a surgical microscope donated by Harrisonburg’s Dr. Conrad Zapanta. Five months later they began filling a new, larger space provided by Interchange Group with donations from Sentara RMH Medical Center in Harrisonburg, and Carillion Clinic in Roanoke.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began, international borders in some African countries were shut down and warehouse security increased, causing concern about the viability of meeting the project’s goals. During this time however, Smith identified additional medical equipment needs in Ethiopia and decided to add this destination to the project’s original goals.

In early August, club members Bhumik Shah and Jess Lewis along with Ritchie and Smith loaded the first of the 40’ containers with supplies, and within a week it was on its way to the port at Djibouti and ultimately inland to Ethiopia. Dr. Tilahun Goshu, who is affiliated with the Ethiopian hospitals, was on hand to help identify critical equipment needed for the shipment. The second full container, the result of hard work and extending their previous goal, is bound for the Congo.

Lewis was enthusiastic about the venture, saying “Our project with Mihret Medical is a great experience for the members of our club. It provides the opportunity to learn about supply chain operations while giving back to people in need.”

Ritchie is also pleased with the real-world experience the student team has acquired in this new venture as well as new content for classroom teaching. “I feel this is the beginning of a long-term effort that will yield significant returns for our JMU students and the broader community,” he said. “It was exciting to see how the community engaged with JMU students.”

The JMU Supply Chain Club has set a goal of regularly shipping out medical equipment containers in future semesters, and the continued learning opportunities won’t end there. Ritchie is working with Geollect, a British geospatial intelligence company co-founded by JMU alumna Cate Gwilliam, who has donated programming time to create an app to track the cargo vessels and incorporate the information in his classroom supply chain GIS lessons.

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Published: Friday, August 28, 2020

Last Updated: Wednesday, September 30, 2020

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