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Health Supply Chain Capacity Development: A Must for the Sustainable Development Goals and Health Equity

Though it is 2016, one-third of the world’s population is still without access to essential life-saving medicines. As we usher in the era of the Sustainable Development Goals, there has never been a more important time to renew our focus on developing the health supply chains in countries with the greatest health needs.

These health supply chains are the “arteries” of health care, without which the health products needed by health workers could not flow to the patients who need them. Many of these patients are currently dying from illnesses, such as malaria, that are treatable by modern medicine. Many clients are in need of reproductive health commodities to achieve their family planning goals. Many men, women, and children need continuous supply of antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS treatment. The list goes on.

We understand that health supply chains are complex systems that necessitate infrastructure, products, data, and professional people in sufficient numbers at the correct places, with the competencies to manage, develop, and sustain these systems. Although significant progress has been documented against the Millennium Development Goals, a lot remains to be done.

In 2011, The People that Deliver (PtD) Initiative was born with a “vision of a world where national supply chain workforces are planned, financed, developed, and supported in a way that ensures equitable and sustainable access to the medicines and other commodities needed for optimal health outcomes.”

As the PtD Evidence for Impact Brief notes, PtD has succeeded in bringing the need to do more to systematically improve and professionalize cadres involved in health logistics and supply chain activity to the front and center of supply chain capacity development. PtD has published a strong evidence base, has made tools and guidance available from its in-country experiences, and has equipped supply chain professionals with advocacy tools to further engage in local contexts.

Supporting supply chain professionals will benefit reproductive health commodity security. From supporting the wide distribution of a variety of family planning commodities to ensuring cold chain protocols are followed for safe delivery, there are many areas in which attention should be given to training health professionals. Ensuring there is a continuous, appropriate supply of family planning commodities, such as condoms and implants, in both urban and rural health facilities is essential for meeting clients’ family planning needs.

I have been told on many occasions that the success of PtD will be determined by how well it can influence countries to make the changes needed in human resources to allow sustainable development to occur. Although our focus countries have demonstrated a variety of successes, there is still a long way to go for sustainable health supply chains to be a reality in many countries. Human resources issues continue to be a significant barrier.

PtD has laid a firm foundation for professionalization and an improved systematic approach to the capacity development of these human resources, but in this next phase of “country-based change,” we will all need to coordinate and cooperate more for sustainable change to be a reality.

The following “levers of change” are pivotal if country-based change is to be a reality:

  • Governments need to see the importance of health supply chains and provide sufficient focus and resources.
  • Supply chain leaders and managers need to develop sufficient skills and work at the right level within the hierarchy to be able to advocate for change and possess the authority to make change happen.
  • Supply chain professional associations need to increase their advocacy and capacity development efforts in the health sector.
  • Greater engagement of the country-based private sector is essential.

I am grateful to work with so many dedicated PtD members and partner organizations that support PtD and work tirelessly to help improve the availability of medicines to that one-third of the population that does not have access. Yet there is much more to accomplish. As I enter into 2016, I will be seeking to maneuver the professional association lever to increase country-based change. What lever will you be working on?This post was originally published by K4Health.