‘Supply chain’ is an often-used phrase in health care encompassing a wide range of processes. The word ‘chain’ implies a step-wise process, and when one link is not functioning properly, this disrupts the entire system. There is a lot of focus on strengthening the supply chain for pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and other health supplies – and the efforts reach both top-down and bottom-up, which is critical to actually improving the entire system. Each individual link needs focus – areas such as forecasting, procurement, information systems, transport/logistics, etc. – but it is also critical to look at how these pieces are interlinked to make up the supply chain as a whole. Fortunately there are health partners who focus on both individual pieces and the entire system – but these partners need to overlap more and work together to deliver a well-functioning supply chain.That said, let’s take a look at some of the parts. In the area of supply chain (and actually the health system overall), both information and transportation are integral pieces. And the comparisons do not stop there…both cost money but funding is either overlooked or not comprehensively understood; both need to be managed very carefully and most likely require some on-going maintenance; both need attention from the direct user and accountability for that; both will either contribute to/support or else work against/act as a bottleneck in the supply chain.
Riders for Health tries to do its part by managing the transport aspect – both 2- and 4-wheeled – for health care delivery. And one area that our services can support is the supply chain – not only in the delivery of supplies, especially at the last-mile, but also relay of the same information previously discussed.However, this is just one piece of the chain, whereas all aspects must work together in harmony for supplies to ultimately reach facilities and patients all over the world, in varying terrain and environments. The same is true for information, of courseanother key element in ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of a supply chain. When information flow does not occur, there are issues with forecasting, inventory management, and quality-control, eventually leading to stock-outs and delays in care and treatment of patients.
As the links of the chain are inherently linked, information-flow bottlenecks leading to stockouts affects the other pieces, transport included. For example, Riders’ value-added services like sample transport or community health worker mobilisation are affected – if there aren’t phlebotomy consumables or vaccines (respectively) in place at the health centre, our couriers or the government health workers cannot effectively do their job and achieve their health impact (which is the same impact that Riders is aiming for).
Kameko Nichols is the Partnership Director at Riders for Health. She is based in Johannesburg, South Africa