Public and private collaboration: the key to efficient health supply chains

“The question of public private partnership doesn’t matter to the patient – it’s about access.” These were the words of Craig Arnold from Swoop Aero – a drone company that operates in countries including Malawi and Mozambique.

The global health system is a complex web of interactions between public and private actors – and others – all striving to ensure patients receive the health care they require. How though, can the public and private sectors ensure that their joint efforts are capitalising on their complementary strengths and enabling access to health products and services?

This was the question central to the plenary panel discussion on day two of the Global Indaba, convened by People that Deliver.

The private sector: a valuable partner

Dianna Edgil from USAID drew attention to the thriving private sector partners in most countries in Africa.

“The public sector should be expanding to incorporate the private sector,” she said.

“Fifty percent of health costs are paid to the private sector; this means that people’s needs are not being fully met by the public sector,” she added.

She was also keen to add that donor organisations – like USAID and the Global Fund – can help to foster these conversations, navigate conflicts of interest and help to stimulate competition.

Marasi Mwencha from the Global Fund underscored that we all rely on the private sector: “Today we get around 70 percent of our medicines from a private pharmacy.”

Harnessing the power of collaboration

He went on to talk about how best to harness partnerships to accelerate progress towards Sustainable Development Goal three with better, more equitable health for all.

“We need to identify the needs and requirements of the public sector and match these with the competencies of the private sector. The Global Fund convenes a private sector advisory group to allow governments to engage with thought leaders, like Johnson & Johnson. We don’t have new problems today – many problems have already been addressed by the private sector.”

“We need to see how private sector solutions are applicable to the public sector. What are their needs, their core competencies and how can these be complemented by the private sector?” he asked.

“Developing competencies in particular supply chain professions – like logistics – is one area in which the public and private sectors can join forces,” he suggested. He also challenged the audience to ensure that the same standards are set for both the private and public sectors when professionalising the supply chain workforce.

Developing a resilient supply chain workforce

Douglas Kent from the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM) was in agreement and emphasised his organisation’s commitment to developing the competencies of the supply chain workforce. “Talent is our greatest asset,” he said.

“When unpredictable events occur we sometimes lack organisational competencies. We have to invest in talent so that when shocks hit us again we are ready” he added.

“A big part of this is doing more to develop career pathways.”

To develop the capacities of the health supply chain workforce, according to Craig Arnold, “the public and private sectors need to collaborate – only then will they unlock their potential.”

When pushed on a call to action, he said, “Take a problem you have and collaborate with someone you’ve never collaborated with before.”

“The missing link is the trust and collaboration between public and private actors, making the most of the different skills they have to offer.”

Read more about the PtD Global Indaba here.