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Jan 8, 2024   |   Blog Post

A Meeting of the Minds: Empowering Supply Chain Reform Champions

Attendees of the Global Health Supply Chain Summit peer-learning workshop. (Photo Credit: VillageReach)

By Theo Chiviru

Director, Advocacy

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb

So much of my work as an advocacy professional is about bringing people together to create a collective voice for collective action. Last month, I had the privilege of leading a peer-learning workshop with supply chain reform champions where we got to find our collective voice across three languages.

At the 2023 Global Health Supply Chain Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, VillageReach convened 11 government reform champions from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, Liberia, Malawi and Mozambique for an opportunity to have strategic conversations about strengthening public health supply chains. I call them “reform champions” because of the critical role they play in transforming and improving how governments make health products available where and when needed.

With the help of translators and technology, we held these critical discussions in English, French and Portuguese discovering common ground and setting an agenda to find solutions together.

Government role in getting products to people

VillageReach works with partners to build high-performing supply chains that are equitable, people-centered, resilient and sustainable. And the most critical partner in all of our work is African governments. The government is the public health system’s steward and needs to understand community needs and how to best operate in environments with infrastructure constraints.

Access to essential medicines is a critical building block to responsive primary health care systems, yet half of Africa’s population lacks access[1] and often the global health sector works around the public sector instead of working with it. For this reason, sustainable solutions that ensure health products are available for everyone require governments to have the capacity to be in the driving seat. As Lloyd Matowe (Director, Pharmaceutical Systems Africa) mentioned in his opening presentation at the workshop, regardless of how many PhDs implementing partners and donors have they will never replace the local knowledge and country context held by public sector officials.

Enabling collection action

As supply chain champions, we already knew that no one-size-fits all solution for solving supply chain challenges on the continent exist. Throughout the day, we discussed how each country has a specific context that any solution or initiative should be adapted to meet. However, we found critical opportunities for peer-learning through discussing country challenges and sharing country solutions.

Engaging political leaders

Franck Biayi, Director of the National Essential Medicine Supply Program (PNAM) in DRC shared a story about his challenge to communicate supply chain needs to political leadership. He said ministers always ask why there is a shortage of health products. So, they tried to use data to answer the mismatch between supply and demand – but he could see they were not fully understanding. Using an illustration of a bowl of rice, Biayi explained how a bowl of rice feeding five people will not feed in perpetuity unless replenished.

He said this helped demonstrate that there is insufficient supply – a government can’t provide quality health services to people with limited medicines and vaccines. Biayi said that these ministers need to mobilize the supply chain resources, and getting their understanding of the challenges was critical.

Leveraging resources

Many African countries have a large private sector operating in non-health supply chain areas. These private companies offer expertise in supply chain logistics, therefore, creating sustainable programs and partnerships where governments can leverage the private sector for outsourced logistics is critical to strengthening supply chains (Learn more otrcsupport.org). Workshop representatives from Mozambique spoke first-hand about the benefits of outsourced transport of medicines, vaccines and medical supplies to their approximately 1,800 health units in Mozambique. They said that while there were several challenges along the way overcoming those challenges had far-reaching benefits.

Marcos Titos, from Central Medical Stores in Mozambique, said using outsourced transport for health products was a very important win for the country because before engaging the private sector for transport some districts used ambulances for distribution, which were already in short supply. Now health facilities get medicines on time, and sick patients don’t have to compete for ambulances.

Increasing partner coordination

Public health supply chains in Africa have many stakeholders. Donors that procure and distribute certain medications and vaccines, implementing partners, private sector logistics firms and Ministries of Health. Sara Mayuni, from the Malawi Ministry of Health, mentioned during the workshop that all of these stakeholders led to a continued fragmentation of efforts. She said so many partners manage different programs or initiatives but do not talk to each other.

There is a critical role the government can play in leading coordination efforts. Workshop participants from DRC shared a successful program they are managing with technical assistance from VillageReach. The program coordinates supply chain investments and programs across the DRC to ensure the government and their partners and donors are not fragmented in delivering essential medicines but are working together. (Learn more about this program).

Finding Solutions Together

Seeing so many government reform champions work together across language barriers to find a collective voice was energizing. My objectives for this workshop were to provide these champions with the opportunity to learn from one another, foster relationships for future collaboration and build leadership capacity to advocate for high-performing supply chains in their countries.

And this was only the beginning. Participants identified four supply chain strengthening activities for collective action during the workshop. As we continue to bring these reform champions together, both virtually and in-person, I know we can go further to ensure that health products are available where and when needed.

[1] Yenet A, Nibret G, Tegegne BA. Challenges to the Availability and Affordability of Essential Medicines in African Countries: A Scoping Review. Clinicoecon Outcomes Res. 2023 Jun 13;15:443-458. doi: 10.2147/CEOR.S413546. PMID: 37332489; PMCID: PMC10276598.


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