Overcoming Gender Barriers: A Day in the Life of a Health Worker in the Supply Chain

El Salvador’s Ministry of Health has 111 warehouses nationwide, and only two are directed by women. Yesenia Aguirre de Barahona is one of those two women, working as a warehouse guard in the Paracentral Region. Her warehouse supplies medicines to 73 health centers that serve a total of 882,243 people.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, she gained 23 years of experience working in the supply chain of the country’s health system, and spent seven years as a guard of medication warehouses. Even though she is highly experienced, she faces some challenges due to being a woman in a role typically held by men.

“I have in my charge seven men,” Yesenia explains, “and sometimes it is difficult, because they say that a woman cannot give them orders, that this is not a position for women. It is a cultural issue, because our society is patriarchal.” Yesenia has succeeded in raising awareness, though: “I say ‘It’s not for me, it’s for the patients. Treat the medications with love.’ I have made their work important, and we are a team—with that I have achieved their respect.”

Now, Yesenia says, “there are employees of other warehouses that want to come to work with me because of the work environment, they say—because I cooperate with them. I also lift boxes and I treat everyone equally.”

Yesenia Aguirre de Barahona with her staff

Under the supervision of the procurement director, Mario Carbajal of the central Ministry of Health, Yesenia works every day to ensure that the medicines arrive at the health centers in a timely manner. “I know that my work helps to ensure the health of the population,” she says, “and that by having the health centers stocked and ensuring good storage practices, the poorest people have access to health.”

Yesenia Aguirre de Barahona was one of the key informants in a situational assessment of human resources capacity for supply chain management, conducted by the Ministry of Health with CapacityPlus technical assistance. In August, I visited El Salvador to contribute to this assessment and train the local team, which collected information in five health regions and nine hospitals. The team also conducted seven focus group discussions and interviews with key actors from the University of San Salvador, the National Medication Direction, Acquisitions Unit, and Institutional Contracting. This work is part of CapacityPlus’s efforts to professionalize the supply chain workforce and ensure access to HIV/AIDS commodities, with support from USAID’s Latin America and Caribbean Bureau.

For her part, Yesenia thinks the assessment will be helpful. “My expectations are that it may contribute to some extent to provide us what we need, such as better staffing, training, to identify the weaknesses in the supply chain—and of course that these weaknesses can be strengthened.”

Version in Spanish

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Photo by Sonia Brito-Anderson (Yesenia Aguirre de Barahona with her staff)