A free computer simulation model designed by scientists from two U.S. universities is benefiting an increasing number of of low-income countries in Africa and around the world by helping health officials in those countries design cutting-edge supply chains for medication.

A team of researchers from the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, the University of Pittsburgh School of Engineering and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health designed the HERMES (Highly Extensible Resource for Modeling Event-Driven Supply Chains) software, which was recently rolled out in the Republic of Benin. The modeling software has also been used in Niger, Thailand, Vietnam and Senegal.

The HERMES team is now set to deploy the software in Mozambique and is discussing plans for other countries in Africa and around the world.

"Generally, we work with various partners such as UNICEF, WHO, PATH, and other NGO organizations to introduce HERMES and simulation for decision support in the country," said one of the team leaders, Shawn T. Brown. "We are also developing a user-friendly version of the software so that countries that want to utilize the tool can do so themselves."

Developed with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, HERMES is a software platform designed to let users create an event simulation model of any vaccine supply chain, according to the HERMES team's website.

The software can be used to test changes to the supply chain prior to implementing them in the real world. This, according to Brown, "can be considerably less disruptive and costly than pilot projects." He added that the model can also help "prepare for new vaccines, respond to population changes, apply new technologies, and redesign the system for greater efficiency and effectiveness."

The team's engagement with the Beninese Health Ministry began after they traveled to Benin to hold a workshop to inform the ministry on what the HERMES team could do to help the country's immunization program, and then worked for two months with them to build a supply-chain model and test scenarios of interest.

"We worked with partners and the Ministry to gather the needed data for building the model and assessing the current state of the immunization supply chain," Brown said. "We built a HERMES model of the entire country with every storage location, freezer, refrigerator, transport vehicle, and location in the supply chain. We then used the simulation tools to measure the amount of investment needed for the country to implement new systems and to estimate the operational costs."

The model suggested that by changing transportation routes, among other things, Benin could save between $50,000 and $70,000 in initial expenses and $50,000 to $90,000 in annual costs while still reaching 99 percent to 100 percent of children. Through 2017, the improved plan would save Benin over $500,000 in total costs while improving vaccination rates and facilitating the rotavirus vaccinations.

Brown said the HERMES team is looking forward to helping other countries deploy the software.