Building Capacity of Supply Chain Professionals in Humanitarian Crisis Settings: Danish Red Cross

December 17th, 2021 | Viewpoint

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Jesper Bjørnbæk Nielsen, Danish Red Cross

Jesper Bjørnbæk Nielsen is a global logistics surge delegate for Danish Red Cross, supporting logistics operations in nine countries. From his base in Ethiopia, he oversees the procurement of health supplies and other commodities to help populations affected by humanitarian crises in countries such as Niger, Mali, and Guinea. With experience in logistics from the military and commercial sectors, Mr. Nielsen entered the field of humanitarian logistics in 2013 to help with emergency response to super typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines. Before his current post, he managed medical logistics for the Red Cross and Red Crescent emergency field hospital in the Cox’s Bazar Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh.

Challenges to Mr. Nielsen’s work include difficulties in accurately quantifying needed commodities, short-term and uneven funding, greatly fluctuating prices in the local markets, and concerns about quality when buying products locally. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these common supply chain management concerns and shifted some of the focus to immediate COVID-19 supply needs. In Kenya, Ethiopia, and Malawi, Mr. Nielsen worked on COVID awareness programs for personal protective equipment, and in Malawi, funding from the Danish Red Cross helped provide solar vaccine coolers for the COVAX program.

Over the past year, Mr. Nielsen and his colleagues have participated in capacity building activities funded by USAID, including various webinars and a supply chain management workshop in Nairobi, at which supply chain professionals from various humanitarian organizations networked and learned from experts in the field. Some of the most important components of the workshop were quantification tools and exercises, as well as discussion with peers about the current supply chain constraints. A key topic for many participants was access to suppliers and ensuring the quality of pharmaceutical commodities.

Following the workshop, Mr. Nielsen and his colleagues at Danish Red Cross met to consider how they might diversify sourcing and increase the use of local and regional suppliers. “We are now looking into how we can use other suppliers around the world so we can get products faster while ensuring good quality according to the standards,” noted Mr. Nielsen. “It was helpful to talk with colleagues from different organizations, which gives us an opportunity to learn from them about how they might have approved suppliers. Especially for suppliers that are failing to deliver quality products, it’s very important that we as a community can share information about that.” Expanding options for procurement beyond established framework agreements can mean a faster response during emergencies.

The Building Capacity to Improve Pharmaceutical and Medical Commodity Management in Humanitarian and Disaster Settings Project helps staff from international and local nongovernmental organizations manage pharmaceutical and medical commodities through training, guidance, resources, and follow-up support. The project is funded by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance and managed by JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc.

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