A Chair at the Top? The Importance of Leadership for Public Health Supply Chains


Large business organizations know that supply chains are critical to their success or failure. If products are unavailable, customers will go to a competitor, and profits decline. Public health supply chains don’t have a bottom line to consider, but their services are more critical than driving home a profit; people’s lives depend on them and when supply chains falter, the health impact can be devastating. Medicines, contraceptives, and other health supplies must be available when and where people need them.

In contrast to private sector companies, ministries of health in developing countries are typically not structured to include a director, who focuses solely on the supply chain, and who is placed in the top leadership of the organization. This can cause supply chain problems to be poorly understood, underrepresented, or just lost when other issues are deemed more important.

If we are to bend the curve of health improvement, the status of supply chain issues must be elevated with dedicated, professional supply chain management (SCM) staff who can effectively advocate at the highest levels. This could mean creating a standalone directorate for supply chain management, or giving representatives from the logistics management unit a seat at high level meetings on a regular basis.

When decisionmakers can interact directly with professional supply chain leaders, who are closely involved in day-to-day logistics operations, SCM issues become more visible and can be resolved faster. Public health supply chains are large, complicated organizations that require a core of trained professionals to execute the technical tasks that ensure a continuous product flow to health facilities. These tasks may relate to quantification, procurement, distribution, or logistics management information systems, to name a few key SCM areas.

The traditional model in which ministry staff and health workers are trained to perform SCM duties , has some inherent problems; for health workers, it takes focus away from patient care, and for ministry staff, it is necessary (and costly) to continually retrain staff because their SCM duties may be peripheral to their positions.

With professional SCM personnel and a supportive policy environment, failing supply chains can be turned around. In recent years, the USAID | DELIVER PROJECT has embarked on a number of activities that promote the professionalization of public health supply chain staff. Pre-service training (PST) is a promising new practice that brings SCM training into universities and ensures a new crop of skilled logisticians every year—so far implemented in seven countries. The International Association of Public Health Logisticians (IAPHL), a professional association initiated by the USAID | DELIVER PROJECT, offers life-long learning and access to a network of SCM professionals.

The project has encouraged countries to establish logistics management units with dedicated SCM staff, a concept which has proven itself as a successful approach to overcoming certain supply chain challenges. The project also developed a comprehensive human resources (HR) assessment tool, as well as other training resources, such as an online logistics course, instructional videos, handbooks, guidelines, and more. The project developed the Recruiting Supply Chain Professionals: A Ready Reference Guide for Finding and Selecting High Performers to help ministries of health recruit the right people at the right place.

To raise awareness and promote the importance of professionalizing SCM in public sector supply chains, the project collaborates with People that Deliver (PtD), a global initiative for countries that want to improve the health supply chain workforce. At the PtD Conference in Copenhagen in October, the project will be co-facilitating a workshop on the Human Resource Capacity Development in Public Health Supply Chain Management: Assessment Guide and Tool with Management Sciences for Health’s Systems for Improved Access to Pharmaceuticals and Services (SIAPS) project and IntraHealth. The project will also support a health supply chain leadership workshop, co-facilitated by GAVI and USAID.

As country governments plan for the next decade of health programs, might it be wise to consider what works well for the private sector? Elevating the role of SCM and making a chair available at the top of the organization will strengthen supply chain leadership; professionalizing SCM personnel will strengthen supply chain operations at all levels.

Learn more about the USAID | DELIVER PROJECT at deliver.jsi.com

2 responses to “A Chair at the Top? The Importance of Leadership for Public Health Supply Chains”

  1. The above article give much more value for managing SCM and also guide to all those people who are involving in this sector. Congratulations Mr. Proper. I had also chance to participate your FPLM training at Thiland in 1994 when I was workink in JSI/working. Now Lifeline Nepal has a 5yr. Project for improving health logistics system. Nice to see you. Thank you. Once again congratulations for the articles.

  2. Walter : Congratulations for writing a very nice article. Succint with a clear message. All what have been said is very relevant for a country like India. The need is huge and the capacity, highly variable.

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