Poor supply chains in low to middle income countries are the reason that one third of the world’s population lacks access to medicines, Dr Andrew Brown of USAID Medicines, Technologies, and Pharmaceutical Services (MTaPS) Program told delegates at the 2023 SAPICS Conference in Cape Town.

Dr Brown, who is the organisation’s senior principal technical adviser, moderated a panel discussion on supply chain professionalisation, which, he noted, is not just about training, but also about strengthening the capacity of the systems needed to support the supply chain workforce. Panellist Dominique Zwinkels, executive director of People that Deliver, echoed this. She stressed that the issue of supply chain professionalisation is about more than a lack of training. “Interventions are needed to ensure standards of skills and competence as well as equity, diversity, opportunities for women and youth engagement. Supply chain management is not seen as a profession. While USD 50 billion is spent annually on medicines, there are too few organisations investing in the workforce,” she stated.

“We need to chart out the career path for supply chain practitioners, because I have never heard a teenager say that they want to be a health logistician when they grow up, and this is compromising healthcare,” said panellist Rebecca Alban, health systems manager at VillageReach.

In addition to outlining the challenges, the panel discussion also covered good news stories from around Africa. According to Azuka Okeke, chief executive officer at Africa Resource Centre for Excellence in Nigeria, it has been a long journey and there is still a lot to do, but the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place to professionalise supply chains in Africa and attract a pipeline of young talent into the profession. “In Nigeria, there is now a national supply chain strategy and framework that will improve healthcare skills and outcomes. There are standard titles for different levels of supply chain practitioners. In the states, we have supply chain teams ready to start implementing these. Nigeria’s government universities are ready to roll out bachelor’s and master’s degrees in supply chain management,” Okeke reported.

In Malawi, Alban said, a pharmacy assistant training programme was hugely successful and will be repeated. She revealed that the University of Mozambique is working on its first bachelor’s degree for health logisticians.

The University of Rwanda had seen high demand for a New Master Programme in Health Supply Chain Management, according to Zwinkels. She also told SAPICS Conference attendees about the Girls on the Move project, through which young women seeking careers in supply chain management are being offered internship opportunities by participating employers. The pilot project is in Kisumu, Kenya. It is a collaboration between the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition and Pamela Steele Associates.

Panellist Douglas Kent, who is the executive vice president, corporate and strategic alliances at the Association for Supply Chain Management, stressed that public-private partnerships are critical to transform healthcare supply chains in developing countries.

More than 700 supply chain practitioners from 32 countries across Africa and around the world attended the 2023 SAPICS Conference. Africa’s leading education, knowledge sharing and networking event, it has been hosted by The Professional Body for Supply Chain Management (SAPICS) since 1975. This year, it featured an exciting collaboration between SAPICS and the South African Association of Freight Forwarders (SAAFF), which co-hosted the conference. There was also a global public health supply chain track running throughout the conference programme for the first time. “Lives depend on strong, resilient health supply chains. Partnerships and collaborations are critical to building these and SAPICS is a perfect platform for these discussions,” said SAPICS president MJ Schoemaker.

SAPICS’s mission is to elevate, educate and empower the community of supply chain professionals across Africa.
Since its foundation in 1966, SAPICS, The Professional Body for Supply Chain Management, has become the leading provider of knowledge in supply chain management, production and operations in Southern Africa. SAPICS builds operations management excellence in individuals and enterprises through superior education and training, internationally recognised certifications, comprehensive resources and a country-wide community of accomplished industry professionals. This community is ever expanding and now includes a multitude of associates in other African countries as well as around the globe. SAPICS is proud to represent the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM) as its exclusive premier channel partner in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The annual SAPICS Conference is the leading event in Africa for supply chain professionals.
The South African Association of Freight Forwarders (SAAFF) was established in 1921.  For more than a century, SAAFF has played an essential role in freight forwarding and international trade, with members facilitating these activities through their dedicated involvement in the management of transportation, customs clearing, documentation, third-party payments, and many other elements of the international supply chain.

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