Why the health supply chain workforce matters

Strong health supply chains are central to positive health outcomes. Health supply chains are people supply chains, depending not only on financial and technical inputs but also on competent, recognized, and empowered individuals to ensure that essential medicines and health commodities reach the people who need them—and save lives.
Every year development partners and national governments spend billions of dollars procuring medicines and other essential health commodities, such as diagnostic tests and clean delivery kits, for low-income countries. Yet all too often these critical supplies do not reach the people who need them, resulting in at least one-third of the world’s population without regular access to essential medicines (World Health Organization 2011a).  

To overcome this situation, supply chain workforces must be planned, financed, developed, and supported with the aim of securing equitable and sustainable access to life-saving medicines and health commodities. Within the workforce, technical, policy, planning, logistics, and budgeting competencies are needed for appropriate product selection, forecasting and procurement, storage, distribution, and ultimately use by health facilities, health workers, and consumers or patients.

The supply chain workforce includes a variety of people who are dedicated to fulfilling these functions at national, district, and health facility levels, such as pharmacists, logisticians, supply chain managers, data managers, and warehouse and transport personnel. It also includes key personnel who contribute only a portion of their time to supply chain functions, such as doctors, nurses, and other clinical and administrative staff, all of whom function within a coordinated system to provide appropriate, effective, and affordable medicines and commodities. Figure 1 presents the functions of a national health supply chain.

Figure 1: Functions of a National Health Supply Chain

Logistics cycle

Source: USAID | DELIVER Project 2010

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