In my experience, the problem with talking about supply chains is that no one really wants to have a discussion about the unsexy topic of consistent, self-sufficient distribution. Things like packaging, transport and the need for distribution channels independent of donor-funding are not topics used for promotional material. More often than not, people brush aside the supply chain topic as being the least interesting part of women’s health, when in fact it is so important when it comes to delivering on the mission itself. Supply equals access, access equals choice and choice equals change for women.
Understandably, most people are compelled by the stories of the women and children around the world that we aim to help. As compassionate human beings, that makes perfect sense. What I know, from doing this work for many years, is that without an accessible and reliable supply of products, the women and children in these stories do not get the care they deserve. The stories just stay stories.
Supply chains are what we relentlessly focus on internally to address the great global unmet need for contraception that we all agree is there. In fact, 225 million women around the world want to avoid pregnancy but are not using modern contraception. Some of the barriers to access include cultural or religious issues, side effects and ineffective supply chains. I deeply believe that addressing unplanned pregnancy will have a huge impact on the health and well-being of women and children globally. Maternal and child health are better served when women can choose when, if and how many children they would like to have.
The lesson we’ve learned is that it is critical to structure our mission on solid business practices, which include a deliberate and methodical investment in robust quality and regulatory expertise. Constant focus is needed on details like the manufacturing process, raw material suppliers and packaging that will endure heat degradation in extreme climates. Distribution networks and relationships with in-country distributors and key thought leaders must also be managed and monitored constantly.
We cannot let up because the supply chain is what helps give women the chance to create new stories about improving their lives, economic standing, environment and children’s futures. Our impact happens, step-by-step, through the supply chain because sustainable access to family planning and contraception is really the answer to sustainable change. What good is it to have contraception available if women can’t access it? And what good is it to have access if you can’t rely on the quality of the products? Most of all, what good do any of our efforts have if we are not serving the women at the end of the chain?
This post is part of the blog series “Increasing access to maternal and reproductive health supplies: Leveraging lessons learned in preventing maternal mortality,” hosted by the Maternal Health Task Force, Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition/Maternal Health Supplies Caucus, Family Care International and the USAID-Accelovate program at Jhpiego which discusses the importance and methods of reaching women with lifesaving reproductive and maternal health supplies in the context of the proposed new global target of fewer than 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 births by 2030. To contribute a post, contact Katie Millar.