Functional, efficient supply chains are just one part of meeting a community's need for reproductive health supplies.
The Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition
Trying to run a reproductive health program without contraceptives has been likened to trying to eradicate smallpox without vaccines. Yet developing countries toil daily with the challenge of obtaining enough condoms, birth control pills, emergency contraceptives, essential medicines, and other supplies to meet the reproductive health needs of women and men.
As funding support for reproductive health stagnates, the demand keeps growing. An estimated 137 million women in developing countries have an unmet need for contraception today, and the number of contraceptive users is projected to increase by more than 21 percent in the next ten years. People who can’t access the supplies they need for sexual and reproductive health face unwanted pregnancies, dangerous abortions, unsafe deliveries, and the risk of contracting or spreading sexually transmitted infections.
Recognizing the challenges in meeting the demand for these critical provisions, PATH and several partners in 2004 established the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition. Composed of more than 80 diverse agencies and organizations from around the globe, the coalition works to ensure that all people in low- and middle-income countries can access and use affordable, high-quality supplies. PATH serves as secretariat for the Brussels, Belgium-based coalition, relying on our nearly 30 years of experience in supplying essential technologies.
More couples are interested in using contraception than ever before, thanks to the success of family planning programs and a burgeoning world population of reproductive age. Meanwhile, international development assistance has shifted focus from family planning to other areas of population assistance, leaving a funding gap.
The coalition works with donors, consumers, and the public and private sectors to increase the flow and effective use of resources. The group advocates for increased funding from the international community and developing-country health budgets through tools such as advocacy materials to help ministries of health, reproductive health programs, and other stakeholders make a better case for the supplies they need.
The coalition also seeks out innovative ways to stabilize funding streams. Once operational, for example, a new funding mechanism called the Pledge Guarantee for Health will allow recipients of international donor assistance to use the pending pledges as collateral to purchase reproductive health supplies when they are needed, rather than waiting for donor disbursements to materialize. This mechanism reduces the cost of capital and the number of emergency supply shipments and provides a more reliable flow of funds for reproductive health programs.
Strengthening health systems’ capacity
Countries need not only the resources to purchase reproductive health supplies, but also a functional, efficient supply chain to ensure these important supplies reach the people who need them. The coalition works with governments, member organizations, and other partners to ensure that systems are in place for effective procurement, storage, and distribution of supplies.
The Reproductive Health Interchange is one such system. This free, Internet-based tool is accessible through the coalition’s website, www.rhsupplies.org. It allows countries and programs to track shipments and improve planning and coordination.
When systems fail, as they occasionally do, the coalition also offers back-up mechanisms. Through its Countries at Risk Group, for example, the coalition brings together the world’s leading donor agencies every month to identify and avert looming stock-outs in developing countries.
Strong partnerships throughout the global health community are vital to meet the demand for reproductive health supplies. The coalition brings together diverse stakeholders to share their experiences and expertise and serve as technical resources and global advocates for reproductive health supplies security. Through organized working groups, the coalition’s members collaborate to strengthen supply systems, bring about changes and improvements to the supply market, and mobilize funding for supplies. In 2008, the coalition launched a new Innovation Fund that will provide more than US$2 million over the next two years in support of new initiatives by its working groups.
The coalition uses its SupplyInsider monthly newsletter, website, and annual membership meetings to keep partners abreast of supply issues, and it plays a key role in enabling partners to take common action. In 2006, the coalition secured the commitment of its members to procure only products that have either been prequalified by the World Health Organization or approved by an internationally recognized drug agency, such as the US Food and Drug Administration or the European Medicines Agency.
For the men and women at the end of the supply chain, having access to family planning commodities and other reproductive health supplies means a chance at better health for themselves and their families. The Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition is making sure that everyone can get the important contraceptives and supplies they need.