I am proud to announce that last month a team composed of provincial government and VillageReach staff successfully conducted the first direct distribution of vaccines and family planning commodities in the Equateur Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Under the Next Generation Supply Chain Initiative, this constitutes a major milestone worth celebrating. It represents more than a year of planning and advocacy to engage government leaders and partners (UNICEF, ECC CORDAID, SANRU, OMS, and Croix Rouge) to take bold steps toward change to ensure more reliable delivery of vaccines and other essential health commodities to “the last mile”, often the most remote and hard-to-reach communities in DRC.
Between July 21 and August 3, the team traveled by motorbike, truck and boat, covering 1,724 kilometers across three health zones: Bolomba, Lolanga-Mampoko, and Mankanza, supplying 30 storage facilities with enough vaccines to cover the needs of 58 health centers for over a month, serving a population of 542,514. One health zone also received family planning products in the same distribution. Evidence from our work in DRC will demonstrate how resource sharing across supply chains can contribute to greater efficiencies and more reliable access to health products at the last mile.
The delivery brought relief to facilities that were already stocked out of vaccines and unable to conduct clinics. Health workers were also excited by the prospect of this new system as they will no longer have to close their clinics to travel long distances to pick up vaccines and family planning products; these health commodities will be delivered much closer to them.
The early engagement and outstanding teamwork of all key partners (the national and provincial governments, health zone authorities and staff, private sector partners, and the VillageReach DRC team) were key to the success of this milestone.
In addition to physically delivering the vaccines and family planning products, the team also engaged in capacity-building activities with local supply chain managers and health zone authorities to provide training and mentorship. These activities emphasized more efficient use of existing resources, including data for decision-making and stock management best practices (i.e. cold chain monitoring), helping managers to respond effectively to supply chain needs at the last mile.
Some challenges and lessons learned:
While anticipated, the rough road conditions and the long distances between the storage facilities posed a significant challenge for this first direct delivery. However, learning from this first experience, the team can more adequately adjust the distribution map for an optimized delivery next month.
The predominance of rivers in the region adds complexity to any transport and logistics effort in order to cross the waterways. Using private sector boats is necessary and requires efficient coordination of calendars and other logistics in order to avoid sub-optimal conditions of transport (i.e. out-of- range temperatures for vaccines). The team will continue to build strong partnerships with the local service providers to ensure an efficient and sustainable transportation solution.
This first direct delivery of vaccines and family planning commodities to this region of DRC represents an incredible first step towards improving the health supply distribution system overall. This initial distribution laid the groundwork for future changes that will, over time, contribute to the increased availability of vaccines in some of the most difficult-to-reach health zones in DRC.
As we prepare for our second delivery, we would like to thank all of our partners for their trust and support.