Stronger Supply Chains for a Healthier New World: A Logistician’s Take on a New Lancet Study

For those of us working in global health, we might wonder if we are really making a difference, especially when events like the Ebola outbreak occur and the news is dominated by images of death and words of fear. The Lancet just released a study that should make everyone working to improve access to quality health care and commodities feel good about the work we do; it might take time and we still have much to do, but we all make a difference:

“Worldwide, from 1990 to 2013, life expectancy at birth rose by 6.2 years…from 65·3 years in 1990 to 71·5 years in 2013…For communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional disorders, global DALY numbers, crude rates, and age-standardised rates have all declined between 1990 and 2013 [total DALYs fell by 3·6%], whereas for non–communicable diseases, global DALYs have been increasing…”
Even as we celebrate these achievements, we know there are still huge inequities in access to care and commodities, and meanwhile, socioeconomic improvements are also increasing DALY’s due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

I’m not an epidemiologist—I’m a supply chain geek—but I still find this study exciting. The epidemiological transition The Lancet highlights must be met with increased agility in supply chains. Public health supply chains of the future will need to accommodate an increased focus on NCDs, even while maintaining the progress we’ve seen in improving access to medicines, vaccines and other health commodities to prevent or treat communicable diseases. That means increasing volumes of different medicines and commodities or, in the parlance of the logistician, stock keeping units (SKUs). We’ve seen this before in the global response to HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria. We’re seeing this now with the introduction of many new vaccines. So we cannot rest on our laurels but must anticipate greater volumes, greater complexity, and greater need for high-performing supply chains.