Workforce development touted as one of the keys to unlocking access to medicines

“A third of countries don’t have access to medicines and one reason is the lack of supply chain professionals,” said Management Science for Health’s Andrew Brown as he opened the session Getting practical with supply chain professionalisation at this year’s SAPICS conference in Cape Town.

“The consequence of this is often the death of women and children who are unable to access the health supplies they require,” he added.

The panel featured People that Deliver (PtD)’s executive manager Dominique Zwinkels, Rebecca Alban from VillageReach, and Azuka Okeke from Africa Resource Centre for Excellence in Supply Chain Management, as well as Douglas Kent from the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM).

For the first time, this year the SAPICS conference has a major focus on public health supply chains and is the first of three supply chain conferences on the topic to be held over the next few months; the Global Health Supply Chain Summit (14 to 16 November in Nairobi) will continue the theme of people in supply chains with a focus on sustainable and resilient supply chains for equitable access to healthcare, while the PtD Global Indaba will then go even further next March in Bangkok and delve into workforce solutions to transform health supply chains.

Using PtD’s professionalisation framework

PtD’s executive manager was keen to ask why, if $50 billion is spent on health products annually, are the people managing these products in the supply chain often ill-equipped?

She drew attention to PtD’s supply chain management (SCM) professionalisation framework, which addresses many workforce challenges. The tool systematically guides countries to establish the supply chain roles needed within the health system and develop adequately-skilled and -educated professionals to fulfil these roles.

“The professionalisation framework is the first of its kind and it enables us to work with countries to begin this journey of professionalisation.”

One country that had embraced the tool is Nigeria, who two weeks ago, endorsed its supply chain management professionalisation roadmap, central to which is the SCM professionalisation framework.

Azuka Okeke said, “We started in Nigeria by asking why training is such a challenge and we realised that training doesn’t always prepare professionals for their roles.”

“There was a national supply chain strategy but it was lacking a focus on career path. Using the framework, we worked with the government so they could foster ownership of the professionalisation process, which involves the whole health supply chain ecosystem, including universities.”

Keeping education relevant

According to Douglas Kent, “’Our job at ASCM is to try to work out what is relevant in terms of educational need and one of our main priorities is to provide relevant training and certification along the whole career pathway.”

“Making a supply chain career attractive plays a huge role in attracting people to the profession,” he said.

“Organisations have to be aware of the skills that are needed so they can build new competencies to satisfy their needs,” he added.

He pointed to a new supply chain sustainability workshop, offered by ACSM, as an example of this.

Translating education into practical application

“So many countries don’t offer bachelor’s programmes in health supply chain management, so countries also need to look for other solutions,” said Rebecca Alban.

She pointed to Pamela Steele Associates’ Girls on the Move project, which offers supply chain internships to young women in Kenya. The programme has had great success in attracting a new demographic to the profession.

She also drew attention to VillageReach’s pharmacy assistant project in Malawi, which identified supply chain skills gaps and introduced pharmacy assistants to health centres to address them. This, she said, is a shining example of recognising a need and using appropriately-trained professionals and a new cadre to improve supply chain performance and ultimately, patients’ access to health products.

Along the same lines Dominique Zwinkels highlighted the unique role that STEP 2.0 – a leadership change management tool – has in developing public sector supply chain leadership competencies.

“Leaders aren’t always supported to develop soft skills but it’s so important that we have capable leaders in place with an eye on global objectives, such as the sustainable development goals and universal health coverage.”

“The public-private partnership fostered by STEP 2.0 has had great success in helping supply chain leaders to overcome challenges in their countries,” she added.

Closing the discussion, Andrew Brown brought the audience’s attention back to the goal of professionalisation: “Let’s remember the end goal is a pipeline of adequately-trained supply chain professionals so that we can improve health outcomes in low-and middle-income countries – professionalisation of the supply chain workforce is essential to this.”

Read more about professionalisation in the East Africa region here, and access the professionalisation framework here.