USAID DISCOVER-Health Procures Essential Items for Zambia’s COVID-19 Response, Part 2 of 3

May 28th, 2020 | Viewpoint

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While countries around the world scrambled to obtain the commodities to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, Zambia’s limited supplies significantly threatened not only public health and safety, but also the health gains the country had worked so hard to achieve over decades. 

On April 3, 2020, USAID allocated funding to its DISCOVER-Health Project in Zambia to procure essential items for the country’s emergency COVID-19 response. 

Faced with this mammoth task, the USAID DISCOVER-Health project quickly shifted priorities to ensure the country, home to 17 million people, was prepared to control the pandemic. As of May 28, 2020, Zambia had 1057 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and seven deaths, according to the Ministry of Health.

In part 2 of this 3-part series, the USAID DISCOVER-Health procurement team highlights how it approached the task at hand.

The USAID DISCOVER-Health team was asked to help the Zambian government procure COVID-19 supplies. How did you approach the task?

Our first strategy was to coordinate with the MOH to understand which essential supplies were needed. With a priority list in hand, we then coordinated with other stakeholders to ensure there was no overlap in our efforts. We tried to source all items locally, first tapping JSI’s prequalified vendors, and then other local vendors. Throughout this process we coordinated closely with USAID to ensure we were compliant with United States government (USG) policies and guidelines related to COVID-19 emergency support.

Simultaneously, we explored options for available equipment and supplies in the region and in international markets including Europe and China. We leveraged JSI’s Partnership for Supply Chain Management team to obtain lists of prequalified vendors in neighboring countries like South Africa and Kenya. The MOH and the Zambia Embassy in Shanghai were instrumental in identifying sources in China that might supply the required goods immediately.

JSI staff load a truck full of essential items to support Zambia's COVID-19 response.

Project staff unload oxygen concentrators, one of many essential supplies procured for the COVID-19 response.

How have project team members managed this new work while protecting themselves from the virus, especially given the need to curtail travel and interactions?

We use time zones to our advantage. The procurement team has been dealing with a variety of vendors in Africa, Europe, and China, chasing down every possible lead. The pace of communication has been swift to ensure no opportunity is missed. It has been an uphill task to coordinate with vendors, their manufacturers, shipping agents, customs authorities, and airlines in the shortest span of time.

USAID DISCOVER-Health is involved in front-line delivery of HIV, mother and child health, family planning, and other outpatient health services. The facilities supported by the project are located in communities and are a first port-of-call for any who are unwell, including people who may have COVID-19. We have strengthened facility-level COVID-19 responses so that services such as HIV treatment, antenatal care, and immunizations can continue to be provided in a manner that protects the health of our staff, health care workers, and their clients. These safety measures include:

  • sensitizing everyone to the disease and how transmission can be reduced through simple procedures like handwashing, not touching one’s face, and physical distancing,
  • orienting health care providers in managing the facilities so that they can quickly identify suspected COVID-19 cases and isolate them,
  • procuring tents for COVID-19 screening and isolation of suspected cases outside the health facility to minimize the risk of exposure among clients who are accessing routine,
  • providing infection prevention and control supplies.
  • shifting some services to tele-health.

Although most clinicians are trained for this kind of work, the disease in itself is new to everyone. In the workplace, we developed rotational schedules to observe physical distancing, and, under Government directives, everyone now wears a cloth or other face mask. We’ve adapted to virtual meetings and electronic approvals and created WhatsApp groups to share information.

JSI staff load boxes of essential items onto a truck for COVID-19 response in Zambia.

JSI staff load boxes of swabs to collect, transport, and preserve viral specimens.

Are there activities beyond procurement that the USAID DISCOVER-Health team is doing to mitigate COVID-19 in Zambia?

In addition to our ongoing work contributing to HIV epidemic control while also providing reproductive health and family planning and maternal and child health services and products, we are supporting COVID-19 tracking and health communication activities, as well as procurement.

For example, our teams are collaborating with John Snow Health Zambia, a local JSI affiliate, to strengthen the electronic supply chain management information system to track all COVID-19 supplies in the MOH system.

The USAID DISCOVER-Health team has also worked with the MOH on communicating with the public and engaging different communities. 

We developed the national risk communications and community engagement plan, and have supported the development of a bot to provide automated information to the public. It’s currently running on the MOH and Zambia National Public Health Institute websites, and moving to WhatsApp shortly. 

To ensure that people are fully informed and know how to protect themselves, we have printed and distributed 168,000 information, education, and communication materials, including seven translations, across 10 provinces; produced and disseminated public service announcements via PA systems across 13 towns and cities; and are developing five 3-minute TV and radio dramas in seven local languages. We are also working on an animation targeting people who are living with HIV with COVID-19 information. Importantly, we are working with chiefs (227 of 288 nationwide) to ensure all this information reaches chiefdoms. Support to the MOH is ongoing.

Part 1 of this series recounts how the team overcame the many challenges it encountered.
Part 3 of this series is about the impact of the pandemic on the public health supply chain and the team’s efforts on the country’s preparedness.

The USAID DISCOVER-Health procurement team:
Shahzad Akbar, Procurement Manager, Boston
Mika Bwembya, Public Health Supply Chain Director, Lusaka
Nylepitha Chirambo, Operations Director, Lusaka
Louise Henderson, Finance and Administration Director, Lusaka
Allison Molenda, Finance and Operations Manager, Boston
Manasseh Pasi, Procurement Manager, Lusaka

To learn more, watch a Facebook Live interview between USAID DISCOVER-Health’s Project Director Muka Chikuba and Chargé d’Affaires David Young of the U.S. Embassy in Zambia.

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