Through my work optimizing supply chains, I have truly come to realize the importance of looking at “the big picture.” If every detail matters in the effective operation of a supply chain, it is also critical to connect the dots and understand how functions interact. Getting health products to remote health centers is no straightforward endeavor—there are many complex steps and processes involved that can make it difficult to visualize the larger, connected system.
Supply chain modeling not only creates the big picture representation of a country’s existing supply chain, it also provides an opportunity to see how changes to one component can affect the overall capabilities of the supply chain. Modeling software makes it easier to process large, diffuse, unrelated data into meaningful interconnected performance indicators. Supply chain managers can get a different look at their supply chains, see the impact of their investments, and consider when and how to improve performance from several angles.
There are many ways a country can achieve a properly functional, affordable and sustainable vaccine supply chain. And if there’s been one recurring lesson from my supply chain work across Africa, it is that one size never fits all. A one-month delivery frequency that works in Benin might not work in other places. For instance, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it can take a week to reach some health facilities, so maybe lengthening the delivery time to every two or three months is more realistic. In Mozambique, each province is pioneering a different approach to system improvements, yet all informed by evidence and the use of modeling. In Zambia, the ministry of health opted to start by assessing the entire country’s supply chain.
What is common across these countries is a new enthusiasm for changing systems that are falling short in meeting country health goals.
What is common across these countries is a new enthusiasm for changing systems that are falling short in meeting country health goals. This energy is crucial given the consequences of failed supply chains. Overburdened health facility staff forced to leave their postings at health centers to travel long distances to pick up vaccines. Young children left unimmunized because of inadequate stock management. Ineffective vaccines due to poor cold chain maintenance. These are all symptoms of a supply chain in need of systemic improvements.
Taking a step back to look at the big picture always inspires necessary change. Modeling is certainly not the only way to get there, but it can be a great place to start. It is also flexible and can be adapted to reflect specific needs and level of effort available to support it.
With modeling results in hand, we transform from what feels like an incomplete, hand-drawn sketch into a vivid and dynamic masterpiece in progress.
To learn more about the role of modeling in immunization supply chain optimization, read Informed Design: How Modeling Can Provide Insights to Improve Vaccine Supply Chains and Finding Efficiencies in Zambia’s Immunisation Supply Chain.
About the Author: As VillageReach’s Immunization Supply Chain Improvement Manager, Emmanuelle works with stakeholders, partners, and governments around sub-Saharan Africa to introduce and explore new tools and approaches that challenge the status quo of existing supply chains.