The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) through its Strategic Fund for Essential Medicines and Public Health Supplies quickly responded to support countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The fund facilitated procurement of critical products and minimized supply chain disruptions by working with three key stakeholder groups – regional and national health authorities, technical experts, and suppliers.
As the COVID-19 pandemic reached the Americas, countries and territories had little time to prepare for its far-reaching impacts. Airlines that transported medications and supplies were shuttered, national lockdowns restricted the timely production of key pharmaceutical ingredients, and supply chains were disrupted, complicating the delivery of vital health products.
PAHO Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne recently urged countries, “Reengineer how essential care is delivered and invest in the first level of care” in order to effectively adapt to the new situation brought about by COVID-19.
The Strategic Fund is a regional technical cooperation mechanism for pooled procurement of essential medicines and strategic health supplies. It helps PAHO Member States to plan demand, guarantee rational use, and avoid stock-outs of these products. The fund has signed agreements with 34 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean to participate in the mechanism.
In 2019, the Strategic Fund also supported regional efforts to control and eliminate communicable and neglected tropical diseases, procuring insecticides and mosquito nets for Member States. All told, 25 countries have ordered $161 million in essential medicines and public health supplies through the Strategic Fund up to September 2020.
Assessing the supply needs for COVID-19 pandemic, the Strategic Fund worked with procurement specialists and national agencies to evaluate the inventory situation across the region and identify which medications and supplies were running low and should be prioritized, and which faced minimal risk of being stocked-out.
A regional analysis then helped identify product surpluses that could be shared between countries. By enabling regional visibility of stocks, the Strategic Fund facilitated horizontal donations and loans of lifesaving medications and supplies between Member States, with countries able to efficiently and equitably lend needed products to one another.
This action also allowed better distribution of strategic stocks of medicines for malaria, Chagas disease, and leishmaniasis that were available in the PAHO Regional Warehouse in Panama
Technical experts at PAHO helped identify alternative treatment protocols based on the inventory situation. This allowed for timely adjustment of recommended medications and supplies that could feasibly be delivered despite restricted supply chains, while ensuring that quality, safety, and efficacy were not compromised.
As a result, millions of people across the Americas were able to sustainably meet their health needs during COVID-19 without the risk of preventable diseases going untreated, including sustaining HIV antiretrovirals and tuberculosis medications.
The Strategic Fund reached out to suppliers to better plan deliveries and shipments, using expanded supply chain options. Through this technical cooperation, PAHO was able to work with suppliers to better utilize safety stocks by uniting distributors across diverse networks. It also expedited deliveries by identifying alternate transportation modes such as air freight and ocean freight, based on cost-effectiveness and timeliness.
Innovative measures helped mitigate the disruption of COVID-19 on healthcare supply chains in the Americas, and the fund leveraged long-standing partnerships between national authorities, technical experts, and suppliers to maintain ongoing routine health services.