Connecting with Businesses to Improve Health Service Delivery by Getting Life-Saving Health Products to People

December 8th, 2016 | Viewpoint


Every five to ten years in the international development field, paradigm shifts emerge that shake up our vantage point. Recent big talk has focused on how emerging markets bring local financing, production, and businesses to the new development model and the “youth bulge” and technology revolution are changing consumption, communication, and growth patterns. How will all these factors combine to better meet the needs of our populations so that they can survive and thrive? How can we thrive and incorporate this new thinking when we are routinely confronted with unstable situations in countries across the globe due to natural disasters, conflict, refugee crises, and unanticipated epidemics?

In the health sector, we have emphasized the need to provide universal health to meet our development goals and have determined that the private sector will play an important role in this transformation. In fact, in all development realms, practitioners and policymakers consider the private sector, and an increasing focus on shared value, critical to our collective success. Recent research and analysis conclude that the private sector absolutely has a role but, just like this summer’s Lancet series noted, the private sector contribution is nuanced and the various mixes appropriate to different systems need to be better assessed and tailored to local conditions. Different models appear to be working with mixed results and not all systems will evolve into increasing privatization, although many will.

So, how can the business sector help us meet our goals and how does our engagement of the private sector evolve and adapt to changing conditions over time? JSI’s recent paper, Getting Products to People: How Private Sector Solutions Can Strengthen Supply Chains for Public Health, provides a framework and a flexible way to think about how countries use the private sector to support their universal health coverage goals and get products to people in complex and dynamic conditions. Providing and maintaining continuous access to health products for the most difficult-to-reach populations necessitates the development of agile supply chains that rely on a multiplicity of partners and strategies to improve service delivery.

  1. Learning from advanced commercial sector practices, and partnering or collaborating with businesses themselves, can strengthen supply chains over time.
  2. Utilizing private sector technologies, such as supply chain modeling software and digital logistics management information systems can lead to overall supply chain strengthening. Adapting such business practices results in better resupply decisions and a ready response to varying situations on the ground.  
  3. Contracting third party logistics providers, such as vendor managed inventory or transportation providers, and working to strengthen their contribution to delivering products for the public good can leverage more efficient resources as country supply chain managers learn to oversee performance rather than always carry out the work themselves.
  4. Stewardship over the entire process,  such as establishment and continuous improvement based on performance-based incentives, is instrumental to ensuring that objectives are aligned and commitment to meeting the population’s needs is maintained.

As supply chains mature, the public sector can learn to guide and integrate the sectors, actors, and processes to achieve a workable balance. JSI’s Supply Chain Integration Framework shows how supply chains progress to maturity from ad hoc operations to a more organized approach to an integrated system.

Recent calls to respond to changing market conditions and crises, like the Zika and Ebola epidemics and the worldwide refugee crisis, serve as a reminder that our supply chain solutions must never remain static, but adapt to the context of the populations being served and the new local resources as well as the technologies and innovations available to us at the present time. If we are to have—and continue to  provide— a consistent, effective response in a developing landscape, we must constantly look beyond the current approach, and never stop seeking out new partners, communities, and solutions to draw upon. New models and frameworks that provide a nuanced and dynamic vision of supply chain maturity over time focus on our long-term goals and recognize that we operate in ever-changing and often unstable environments. By opening up our minds to these concurrent realities, we can build health systems and supply chains that better meet our population’s needs just like businesses increase their bottom line.

Written by Nadia Olson

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