When VillageReach began work with the Supply and Awareness Technical Reference Team for the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women’s and Children’s Health to document promising practices in supply chain management, I was both excited and daunted. Excited because there is a growing recognition that strengthening supply chains is a fundamental aspect of increasing access to medicines and quality healthcare at the last mile; daunted because while there is so much work being done to improve supply chains in low and middle income countries, documentation and evidence of these interventions can be hard, if not impossible, to find.
One of the team’s first tasks was to conduct a literature review to see how many peer-reviewed articles on supply chain interventions in low and middle-income countries we could find. After a thorough search of several research databases, we came up with almost 500 articles. Of these, only three met our criteria of using experimental or quasi-experimental methods to determine whether the interventions were successful. Even though I expected there to be limited evidence, I couldn’t help but be surprised by how limited it was. Experiments published in academic journals are not the only types of evidence, so we branched out our search to white papers, engage our professional networks, and use word of mouth to learn more about what governments, businesses and other non-governmental organizations are doing to strengthen supply chains. Many supply chain management interventions, for example, evaluate their effectiveness through key performance indicators. For instance, measuring how long it takes from the time a medication is ordered by a health center for it to be delivered, or how often hospitals are stocked out of essential medicines. The problem is, sometimes the only way to find out this information is to figure out who is working on the project and contact them personally, as many people do not have the time or resources to publish their work and results.
A year after we started, and after hours of research, interviews with experts, and conversations with those working in the field, the Promising Practices in Supply Chain Management series is complete. The team was able to identify more than 30 promising practices in public health supply chain management and find almost 50 examples of where these practices are being implemented in low and middle-income countries. This, in and of itself, is promising!
I’m excited about this work because at VillageReach we believe that more rigorous evaluation of supply chain interventions and more transparent dissemination of results is vital to increasing access to medications to those who need them the most. Creating a body of evidence on what works, advocating that evidence-based practices be implemented, and learning from each other’s progress and each other’s challenges, is the best way to make sustainable change.