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Pharma logistics Made in Italy: in action for Emergency – and a host of other customers

Reliable and compliant: DB Schenker’s Competence Center for Pharma and Healthcare in Milan looks after several hundred manufacturers and third-party suppliers – including the NGO Emergency. Double portrait in front of the Milan Cathedral: Pietro Persico, Logistics Manager for Emergency (left) and Marco Carminati, Vertical Manager Healthcare for Schenker Italiana

Photos: Chris Lawrence

Sometimes even one of the poorest countries in the world, the Central African Republic, can be the source of good news: the Italian aid organization Emergency operates two medical centers in the capital Bangui. Aided by the exemplary commitment of volunteers, and funded through donations,this is where children and adolescents are provided with treatment and medicinal drugs that are often essential to their survival, free of charge. When it comes to the shipping of medicines and equipment, the non-governmental organization (NGO) relies on the expertise of the Italian pharmaceuticals and healthcare specialists from DB Schenker.


“The people there have to pay every time they visit a doctor, which means most of them cannot afford to buy even the most basic of painkilling drugs,” says Pietro Persico, the man in charge of logistics at Emergency, having just recently returned to the Milan headquarters after paying a work visit to the African country. Founded in 1994 by the surgeon and peace activist Gino Strada, Emergency is currently active in several African countries and in Afghanistan. And since many people do not have access to a healthcare system even in Europe, the NGO also runs projects in Italy – and have treated more than eight million people to date.

In perfect sync: DB Schenker has been active on behalf of Emergency since 2016. In the first year just under 80 consignments were shipped by airfreight. Photo: Chris Lawrence
In perfect sync: DB Schenker has been active on behalf of Emergency since 2016. In the first year just under 80 consignments were shipped by airfreight. Photo: Chris Lawrence

“Emergency plays a vital role in bringing aid and relief to people in war-torn countries and crisis regions,” says Marco Carminati. The Healthcare Vertical Market Manager at Schenker Italiana and his team handled almost 80 airfreight and seafreight shipments for the NGO in 2016. “When I was out on location, medicines were flown in by an Air France plane,” recounts Persico. The shipment's route was Milan – Paris – Bangui.


Milan is also where Marco Carminati’s team is located. The specialists from the Competence Center for Healthcare and Pharma find themselves called upon ever more frequently, and not just on behalf of Emergency: “Using all the various modes of transportation, we managed far in excess of 40,000 consignments in 2016, or 27 percent more than in 2015. We are working with the big names and brands in the local industry.” And with Italy being one of the strongholds of the European pharma and healthcare sectors, that amounts to a whole lot of names.


Regardless of whether it is an NGO, a manufacturer or a third-party supplier: the Competence Center provides its customers with exactly what the name says – competence. “We have been handling our products for years,” says Carminati, “and so we know exactly how sensitive the products can be to fluctuations in temperature, or what their shelf life is and how quickly they therefore need to be delivered. What’s more, we are aware of the enormous value of the goods we ship.”

Since 2015, a colleague with a degree in pharmacology has been part of the team. “To have someone with this kind of expertise on the team is often helpful, for example when it comes to the steady flow of new medicinal drugs coming on the market, or when dealing with the extensive documentation that needs to be prepared for shipments.” In carrying out their work, the team members comply with all of the prescribed procedures, such as the “Good Distribution Practice of medicinal products for human use”.


The bulk of the shipments are delivered to destinations within Europe by truck, usually straight from the sender to the recipient. Last-mile deliveries are also handled on a regular basis, for example from a warehouse outside Milan to pharmacies and medical centers within the metropolitan region. The transport specialists also make use of four other logistics centers for transshipments and for short-term storage; two of these are also near Milan, one is in Rome, and one in southern Italy. “We have the entire country covered, and at the same time we are fully integrated into the global network of DB Schenker.”

Rendering assistance on the spot: the Emergency teams in Africa and Afghanistan depend on reliable deliveries – it is their lifeline to the manufacturers of medicinal drugs

Photos: Emergency / Francesco Pistilli /  Mattia Velati

While business is ticking along nicely in Europe, the drivers for growth are found elsewhere: “In China as well as in South Africa and Brazil, many people are moving up into the middle class and can therefore afford to get medical services and medicinal drugs,” says Carminati. Demand is therefore increasing – and since much of this demand continues to be met from sources in Europe, export volumes are increasing accordingly. At the same time, the team also handles an ever-increasing volume of imports. “Many of the imports are medical equipment for use in Europe, but manufactured in East Asia.”


The facilities available to a global, multi-modal logistics company also make it easier to reach the people who are looked after by Emergency. The kind of dynamic growth seen in the emerging market countries remains a distant dream for them, however. “Right now the situation in the Central African Republic is relatively stable, but that’s not really saying much,” says Pietro Persico. In other words, the demand for reliable deliveries to reach the poorest of the poor is not going to let up in the future.

Three questions for ...

Cecilia Strada, President Emergency

One long love affair: Cecilia Strada has been a part of Emergency ever since the organization was founded in 1994. Photo: Emergency
One long love affair: Cecilia Strada has been a part of Emergency ever since the organization was founded in 1994. Photo: Emergency

Signora Strada, what is the concept behind Emergency?

We provide free healthcare for people without access to a doctor or a hospital or money to pay for their services. We chiefly operate in war and crisis regions, and we launched our first project in Rwanda in 1994. Victims of war are not only the wounded but also those without a medical infrastructure available to them. Either way, without our help people would die.


What does the organization mean to you?

For me it has been one long love affair. I have been a part of it ever since my father founded Emergency. Our work in Afghanistan is particularly close to my heart. It is where I came face-to-face with war for the time, at a time when I was still a child, and my father was working there for the Red Cross. My passion remains as strong as ever, even though the situation in Afghanistan keeps getting worse or the local employees we trained in Africa get offered jobs abroad, forcing us to start all over again.


What role do DB Schenker’s operations play in all this?

In our work, logistics can make the difference between life and death. I cannot say to an injured patient or to a highly pregnant woman, “Come back next week, we’ve run out of medication, and we don’t have the equipment!” We need to be able to rely on materials arriving in time and at the right place, and that the shipments can be made cost-effectively. And we can.

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