UNICEF Supply Annual Report Highlights Medical Products Access, Innovation

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In its recently released Supply Annual Report for 2012, the United Nations agency UNICEF assessed its programme work in developing and strengthening supply chains, in hopes of achieving equitable access to life-saving supplies for children and women. The report found that UNICEF procured supplies and services valued at $2.468 billion, with India being the largest supplier country to UNICEF in 2012. 

The report [pdf] covers: supply chain optimisation and strengthening; access to vaccines in middle-income countries; supply emergency response; product and technical innovation; and savings potential of bednets, vaccines, antiretrovirals (ARVs), and ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF).

UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Education Fund, states that its newly introduced tools, approaches, and technical capacities will optimise its supply chain activities. In partnership with governments and other stakeholders, UNICEF reports improvements to “key interfaces and dependencies, testing temperature-controlled sea shipments, streamlining packaging and deliveries, using text messages to warn of temperature breaches along the cold chain, improving the traceability and monitoring of products via barcoding and strategic tendering for local transport provision to realise these goals.”

Access to vaccines in middle-income countries was a primary goal for UNICEF in 2012. The report cites affordable prices, effective cold-chain infrastructure, and government commitment as requirements for improved vaccine access. In 2012, UNICEF collaborated with governments, donors, and suppliers to develop and implement a procurement strategy for middle-income countries to assure sustained supply of vaccines and more equitable pricing.

In 2012, UNICEF launched its innovation website which serves as a platform for engaging external partners in the fund’s innovation work, hoping to help identify fresh ideas and solutions. The report reviews the status of major product and technological innovations including phase-change material to overcome freezing vaccines, an improved pneumonia detection device, and web-based vaccine stock level monitoring.

The report highlights a need to innovate for improved pneumonia diagnostics because “pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children worldwide, killing an estimated 1.2 million children under 5 each year.” UNICEF says that vaccines for haemophilus influenzae type b, pneumococcus, measles, and whooping cough (pertussis) would be “the most effective way to prevent pneumonia, and antibiotics in the right formulations can treat the disease, while diagnostic tools help with early detection.”

UNICEF established an Innovation Review Board (IRB) in 2012 to further refine the process for submitting and launching an innovation project, and to better support staff from across the organisation to identify, develop and implement innovations in line with UNICEF’s priority areas for improving the lives of children and women. The IRB provides guidance and direction to project leads, and helps track each innovation initiative throughout the project lifecycle.

Looking to the future, UNICEF says it is “entering a period where ‘seeing’ supply chains through the last mile is becoming a reality,” referring to the proliferation of mobile devices, network coverage, and other rapid advancements in communication technology.

Taking advantage of the 2012 roll-out of a global emergency preparedness response (ERP) system, UNICEF says it is “now in a position to match core supply data with vital inputs from a variety of partners, providers and users, each one making use of new technology.”

UNICEF and its partners plan to create a supply chain information network over the next five years that will increase transparency, improve efficiency, and capture feedback from the communities served through its programmes.

UNICEF concludes that the capacity to secure savings “will depend on its strategic, evidence-based procurement decisions, innovative financing and on partnerships that contribute to creating healthy markets.”

In 2012, procurement strategies and innovative financing mechanisms generated a reported savings of more than US$ 197 million, and UNICEF expects that the fund and its partners “will continue to generate savings and value for money in the years ahead,” with a minimum of US$ 810 million in projected savings over the next five years.

Brittany Ngo is currently completing her Master’s in Health Policy and Global Health at the Yale School of Public Health and previously obtained a Bachelor’s of Arts in Economics from Georgetown University. Through her studies she has developed an interest in health-related intellectual property issues. She is a summer intern at Intellectual Property Watch.

Brittany Ngo may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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