Security Briefs: Experts from Latin America and the Caribbean Gather to Address HIV/AIDS Commodities

Amanda PuckettHeadlines making waves across the United States recently featured the severity of this year’s flu virus. Record numbers of cases are reported for the particularly severe strain of influenza. Health experts are urging everyone to get their flu shot if they have not already. Absent are headlines suggesting a vaccine shortage.

Though we may take for granted access to vaccines protecting us from the flu and other viruses, in many parts of the world access to vaccinations, antibiotics, and HIV/AIDS and family planning commodities is limited. Restrictive financing, stockouts, untrained supply chain managers, logistics hardships, fragile infrastructure, weak health systems, and a host of other challenges threaten commodity security in many countries.

Coming together to discuss HIV/AIDS commodity security
During the week of January 21 in Antigua, Guatemala, high-level government experts from Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Panama, and Guatemala have assembled at a workshop to discuss HIV/AIDS commodities in their countries. Though the HIV epidemic in Central and South America has changed little in recent years, a growing number of people living with HIV and their increased life span require strong supply chains to ensure patients have access to antiretrovirals. According to UNAIDS, the total number of people living with HIV in Latin America was around 1.4 million in 2009, an increase from 1.1 million in 2001. An estimated 92,000 new HIV infections occurred in the region in 2009.

Commodities Workshop

Experts gather at the HIV/AIDS Commodity Security Regional Workshop in Antigua, Guatemala.

Click for slideshow with captions.

The workshop participants face the challenge of developing a plan to ensure HIV/AIDS commodity security now and into the future. There is growing pressure for many countries in Latin America to assume greater programmatic and fiscal responsibility for their HIV/AIDS programs including their supply chains; yet it is clear that many needs remain to be addressed for HIV/AIDS supply chain systems, including HIV/AIDS commodities, to function effectively and efficiently on their own with little or no donor support in the future.

With the support of USAID through initiatives like DELIVER, Supply Chain Management Systems, and Grants Management Solutions, a great deal of achievement has been realized in family planning commodity security in Latin America, but translating these lessons learned and successes to HIV/AIDS commodity security, especially in light of restrictive budgets, is a challenge. There is no one-size-fits-all solution: supply chains for commodities are complex and must be flexible and adaptable. 

Identifying key themes for strengthening commodity security
With input from interagency technical experts, including USAID, CapacityPlus, Centers for Disease Control, Pan American Health Organization, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, and experts working on the previously mentioned USAID initiatives, workshop participants are focusing on key themes to strengthen HIV/AIDS commodity security. These themes include: leadership; financing; workforce performance; success measurement; transparency and accountability; policies, planning, and coordination; systems thinking; supply chain management professionalization; and HIV/AIDS commodity access.

Sonia Brito-Anderson, CapacityPlus’s country director in the Dominican Republic, is among the technical experts attending the workshop. Familiar with the subject matter, Sonia is sharing experiences from work the CapacityPlus Dominican Republic team did in September 2012 when it worked with the Ministry of Health to carry out an assessment: Human Resources Capacity in Managing the Public Health Supply Chain. “The assessment provided evidence of specific gaps in the system that helped to inform the development of recommendations on priority challenges that need to be addressed to improve access of vulnerable populations to HIV/AIDS medicines and supplies,” says Brito-Anderson.

With technical support from CapacityPlus and other stakeholders, the country teams will return home and carry out their workplans developed in Antigua. They will focus on the themes most relevant to their supply chain environment and advocate for improved HIV/AIDS commodity security at home. I am optimistic that the success seen in commodity security for family planning in the region can be realized for HIV/AIDS commodities as well.

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Photo of Amanda Puckett by Jennifer Solomon. Slideshow photos by Amanda Puckett.