Ensuring On-Time Delivery of Life Saving Commodities in the DRC

{Photo credit: Warren Zelman, DRC.}Photo credit: Warren Zelman, DRC.

A project of the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) administered by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Supply Chain Management System (SCMS) is led by the non-profit Partnership for Supply Chain Management (PFSCM)—a partnership of John Snow, Inc. (JSI), and Management Sciences for Health (MSH).

The Supply Chain Management System (SCMS) established a local field office in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in early 2013. As one of the most recent additions to the SCMS global portfolio of countries, the local staff of five has sought to scale up and produce results extremely quickly. SCMS’ primary mandate in the DRC is to supply the HIV commodities needed by six PEPFAR implementing partners that are spread across four of the DRC’s eleven provinces. These six implementing partners provide care to some of the most at-need populations within the DRC. They have set ambitious treatment targets and depend on SCMS to deliver the commodities that will allow them to meet those needs. The commodities supplied by SCMS range from antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to antibiotics needed to treat opportunistic infections, lab equipment, supplies and test kits.

This year, 22,514 Congolese people will receive treatment with ARVs supplied by SCMS.

Improving On-Time Commodities Delivery

As the SCMS team began implementing activities in the DRC, perhaps the most immediate challenge they encountered was timely delivery of commodities. During its first year of operations, this small team has made impressive, measurable progress to improve on-time delivery to clients. Local procurements now have a 100 percent on-time delivery rate. In turn, reliable, on-time delivery has supported more effective and consistent provision of care.

Facing DRC Supply Chain Challenges

The DRC has a complex importation and customs clearance system. Importing HIV/AIDS commodities procured from suppliers around the world requires multiple approvals and the submission of extensive, detailed paperwork. This complexity is compounded by security concerns within the DRC and the country’s sheer size and challenging terrain. Before the field office was established, it took seven to ten months between when implementing partners submitted a commodity inquiry to the moment of actual delivery. Time requirements varied extensively based on the type of commodity being procured. This long lead time meant that implementing partners had to anticipate needs far in advance and had little room for flexibility in placing orders. SCMS was constrained in responding to emergency, unplanned needs.

The SCMS team immediately sought to decrease the amount of time between order placement and delivery by focusing in on three key action areas: shifting procurement from the international to the local, Congolese market when possible; contracting efficient customs and freight clearance services; and reducing administrative delays.

Building Local Supply Chain Capacity

First, the local SCMS team completed a rigorous course on commodity procurement and received certification to manage procurements locally. Rather than all procurements being managed out of headquarters, the DRC office is now Field Office Managed Procurement (FOMP) certified by the project’s home office in Washington, DC, and has built productive relationships with local suppliers. Purchasing commodities locally cuts both time and shipping costs and has the added benefit of supporting local businesses.

Three suppliers pre-qualified to respond to SCMS Requests for Quotes (RFQs) for all commodities except ARVs and HIV test kits.  To ensure that these local suppliers fully understand SCMS’ procedures and principles, the field office conducted a “Doing Business with SCMS” workshop in Kinshasa and will conduct a similar workshop in Goma next month. They likewise plan to visit Bujumbura and Kigali to identify and make contact with regional suppliers there.

The SCMS teams in Burundi and Rwanda already use some regional vendors for their own FOMP procurements and have supported the DRC team in developing these relationships.

["Doing Business with SCMS" participants with SCMS/DRC staff.] {Photo credit: SCMS/DRC.}"Doing Business with SCMS" participants with SCMS/DRC staff.Photo credit: SCMS/DRC.

Contracting Efficient Customs and Freight Services

Second, SCMS identified and contracted with an efficient customs agent and freight forwarder agency. Tapping into private sector expertise has allowed SCMS to move commodities through customs quickly and efficiently, ensuring they arrive at their final destination as quickly as possible. Since the agent was hired in October, the average time between ‘pre-alert’ (notification that the order has been procured and is on its way) and delivery has been reduced by eight months: from ten to two.

Reducing Administratrive Delays

Finally, SCMS accelerated the rate at which the project was able to obtain importation authorization and certification documents through the Ministry of Health (MoH). By working closely with the MOH and creating careful internal systems and timelines, SCMS has drastically reduced administrative barriers to the importation of high-quality, low-cost medicines. Before SCMS opened a field office, this process took on average 3 months to complete.

Today, the process takes 3 weeks.

SCMS in DRC: Ensuring Consistent Access to Essential Medicines and Commodities

Together, these improvements have reduced lead time by nearly 80 percent for locally-procured commodities: from seven to ten months in October 2013, down to just six to eight weeks in 2014. This significant reduction in lead time has allowed SCMS to be much more responsive to implementing partner requests; as a result, HIV/AIDS patients have more consistent, immediate access to critical treatment and monitoring medicines and laboratory supplies.

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