‘Tis the season to innovate supply chains: How private-sector expertise can help save lives

‘Tis the season to innovate supply chains: How private-sector expertise can help save lives

By using private-sector transporters, a new initiative in Tete Province, Mozambique has reduced delivery time for vaccines and antiretroviral drugs from one month to one week. Photo: VillageReach/John Beale

Reposted January 6, 2016

‘Tis the season to innovate supply chains: How private-sector expertise can help save lives

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December 17, 2015

This holiday season, millions of gifts are being ordered, packaged, sent to distribution centers, and delivered to homes just in time for celebrations with families and friends. Online retailers and their shipping companies are rising to the occasion, successfully sorting and delivering the packages with remarkable speed to eagerly awaiting recipients.

But what if the gift to be delivered is a vaccine that gives a child the chance to grow up free of deadly and disabling diseases? Nearly 20 percent of children globally are still not being reached with the vaccines they need to protect their health. Shouldn’t such lifesaving vaccines be delivered as reliably and efficiently as toys, books, and games?

Like the many stores shipping gifts this season, global health and immunization partners are realizing the value in partnering with professional logistics providers from the private sector to innovate supply chains and, in doing so, save more lives.

A “busy season” for immunization supply chains

Immunization supply chains, the systems that store and transport vaccines from the manufacturer, to national warehouses, to regional distribution centers, to local clinics, are traditionally managed by countries’ ministries of health. However, these supply chains were developed when immunization schedules were much smaller and simpler. With the introduction of new, more expensive vaccines, these systems cannot keep pace with the increased volume that must be sorted, shipped, and refrigerated. As a result, too many vaccines fail to reach their destination or arrive damaged and unusable.

Many countries now recognize that, in order to fully realize the benefits of vaccines for all populations, they need to start building next-generation supply chains capable of delivering more vaccine supplies to more people in more places, with greater quality, timeliness, and efficiency.

The potential of the private sector

As the holiday gift-giving rush shows, many private companies have developed impressive expertise in efficiently delivering products to all parts of the globe. Such companies employ professional logisticians to manage and continuously improve complex storage and distribution networks, using data to drive decisions and design delivery routes for maximum efficiency.

While private- and public-sector environments differ, commercial expertise and services can in some cases be leveraged to improve public health systems. Rather than trying to create and manage increasingly complex storage and distribution systems and develop professional expertise that is outside the domain of health care, ministries of health can sometimes benefit from outsourcing these functions to commercial service providers.

Public-private partnership innovation and success in Mozambique

VillageReach is a Seattle-based social enterprise that partners with governments across sub-Saharan Africa to redesign health system supply chains and create opportunities to engage the private sector to innovate more efficient approaches to healthcare delivery. Some examples of VillageReach’s efforts in Mozambique to improve vaccine distribution through public-private partnerships include:

  • VidaGas, an energy services company created and owned by VillageReach and its partners, supplies propane to the Ministry of Health, ensuring off-grid health centers have power for refrigeration, lighting, and sterilization. The 14-year-old business sustains its support to the public health system by also serving a growing base of customers in other commercial sectors.
  • In Tete Province, VillageReach recently launched a new public-private partnership with commercial transporters to improve the delivery of vaccines from provincial warehouses to health centers serving 1.5 million people. The transporters are responsible for designing the most optimal and efficient routes for distribution and handling and delivering antiretroviral drugs together with vaccines to health centers.

The future of health supply chains

When receiving packages in the mail this holiday season, take a moment to stop and think about their journey. Each step required skilled professionals, state-of-the-art equipment, intelligent tracking systems, and innovative delivery strategies—all part of an efficient and reliable supply chain.

We believe that governments have a lot to gain by engaging with the private sector to ensure that next-generation supply chains have the capacity to bring vaccines within reach of everyone, no matter where they live. This is why we are excited to work with countries like Mozambique and collaborate with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), PATH, and other global health partners to help move supply chains forward.

‘Tis the season to innovate and reach our health goals—governments need better immunization supply chains, and learning from private-sector solutions will help get us there faster.

This blog was written as part of a global supply chain advocacy partnership to raise visibility and create enabling environments for countries to prioritize and address immunization supply chain issues. For more information, see: