United Parcel Service (UPS), a global logistics company whose business it is to deliver packages to the far flung corners of the world, offers some potentially life- saving lessons to immunisation supply chain managers in developing countries.

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A step in Kilifi’s cold chain, Kenya. Credit: Gavi/2014/Duncan Graham-Rowe.

When vaccines arrive in a developing country, their safe consignment to clinics and outreach centres – some of which are located in extremely remote areas – lies in the hands of a few dedicated health care workers. Specialised supply chain management training is rarely offered to staff responsible for the safe keeping and delivery of vaccines – that is until global logistics leader, United Parcel Service (UPS), offered a course at the recently opened Regional Centre of Excellence for Vaccines, Immunisation and Health Supply Chain Management in Kigali.

“While hardware, infrastructure and technology are important, the successful implementation and management of the supply chain relies on strong managers,” says Kevin Etter, a UPS logistics executive. “Developing dedicated and competent leaders and skilled, motivated and empowered personnel at all levels of the health system is critical.”

After introducing more than 100 new vaccines in the past five years, Africa’s supply chains are stretched to maximum capacity. Distribution managers – from large central depots and small local warehouses alike – need higher levels of expertise to hone their skills. Gavi’s partnership with UPS was set up in 2014 with the express purpose of drawing on the company’s 100 years of experience in logistics to help improve the efficiency of developing countries’ vaccine supply chains. “UPS has a long history of innovative management development programmes and we are honoured to share some of our best practices with Gavi,” says Etter.

Developing dedicated and competent leaders and skilled, motivated and empowered personnel at all levels of the health system is critical. 

Kevin Etter, a UPS logistics executive

Between 2015 and 2020, Gavi and UPS expect to train 200 supply chain managers at the Centre of Excellence, which has the potential to become a regional hub for education and innovation. In addition to a traditional classroom experience and distance learning, course participants are paired up with mentors from UPS and AmerisourceBergen, a member firm of a second Gavi private sector partner, IFPW – see ‘Prospectus’ insert. With this expert guidance, they are able to put their new skills into practice, as well as build a network of co-leaders to share knowledge.

“We presented a very non-traditional training experience,” says Etter. “Participants were very excited to learn in a new way and then to implement those learnings in their areas of responsibility.”

One of STEP’s first graduates, Lucy Kanja, a vaccine depot manager at Dagoretti in Nairobi County in Kenya, is already applying what she has learned. “At Dagoretti, there’s a high turnover of workers and I used to wonder how we could keep everything going,” she says. “At STEP, I learnt about team building and how to attract and retain top talent. Today, I am mentoring three health workers. I teach them supply chain skills that help ensure effective vaccine management.”

Operations director, Joshua Obel, has returned to his office at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMSA) convinced that the training course is a “step” in the right direction toward countries’ long-term goal of building self-sustaining immunisation systems. “I have been to a lot of trainings during my career and this is the only one that I will really be able to put into practice,” he says.


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