Skip to main content

Human resources health supply chains and access to essential medicines

With up to a third of the world’s population with limited access to essential medicines, it is clear that by 2015 many countries will not be able to achieve their health related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) [1]. Of the eight MDGs, four explicitly discusses the availability of medicines at the primary care or service delivery point level [2]. It is pertinent because without access to and appropriate use of quality medicines, health systems would lose their ability to meet healthcare needs.

Though affordability of medicines and high prices are frequently highlighted as challenges to access to essential medicines, the weakness of health supply chains has remained a consistent barrier across a range of low and middle -income countries [35]. Despite major investment over the past decades, national supply chains are often unable to respond effectively to existing demands, putting health outcomes at risk. Since the first Global Forum on Human Resources for Health in Kampala in 2008 [6], the human resource focus has been on the doctors, nurses, midwives and community health workers. However, there is little focus on human resources to improve and sustain health supply chains.

A focus on the human resources is needed and in this context, in 2011, the People that Deliver (PtD) Initiative was founded. The International Pharmacy Federation (FIP) provided further evidence of the need for a HR focus in SCM through their Global Workforce Report in 2012 [7]. In that report they make a link between a lack of pharmacy personnel and inequalities in access to medicines. For example in Sub-Saharan Africa, on average less than one pharmacist was observed for 10,000 population [8]. In October 2014 the 2nd Global Conference on Human Resources for Supply Chain Management (SCM) was held to demonstrate the achievement PtD has made in the recent years [].

Launched in 2011, the PtD Initiative is a global partnership of over 80 organizations who have the joint vision of a world where an agenda for national health supply chain workforce is developed. ( Specifically the goals of PtD are:

  1. I.

    I. Global recognition that strong supply chains are essential for positive health outcomes and require a competent, recognized and supported supply chain workforce with significant technical and managerial capacity.

  2. II.

    Government and national health institutions demand, recruit and retain appropriately qualified personnel for positions with supply chain responsibilities.

  3. III.

    Adequate personnel from relevant cadres with appropriate supply chain competencies and qualifications are available.

  4. IV.

    A repository of evidence-based resources for HR for SCM is established, accessible, used and disseminated.

Human resources are a key performance driver within public health supply chains. The effective management of a supply chain demands excellence in managing its human resources, an area particularly overlooked in resource poor environments. By proactively managing plans, policies and procedures associated with people, an organisation can improve supply chain performance. Such a systematic approach requires the need to plan, finance, develop, support, and retain the national workforces needed for the effective, efficient, and sustainable management of health supply chains [9, 10].

The 2nd PtD Global Conference on Human Resources in Supply Chain Management Conference presented international and country-based work around five interrelated sub themes (Table 1):

Table 1 The five sub themes of the 2nd PtD Global Conference on HR for SCM

The abstracts presented in this special issue highlight current global activity in this area and lay the foundation for the second phase of PtD 2015-2016. Some of the themes presented in the conference include, the increasing use of the HR for SCM assessment tool, application of SCM competency modelling, varied approaches to SCM workforce development, and local professionalization activities.

As the post 2015 development agenda moves its focus toward health equity, the world’s increasing population and expanding middle class will place even greater demands on health services. These increasing demands will put further strain on the health supply chains needed to provide these services. In resource constrained environments, the challenge will be to provide a business case to governments, convincing them of the need to invest in health supply chains. The international development agenda will require organisations involved in health supply chains to come together in a more coordinated fashion, working with governments to enact local, sustainable change. The People that Deliver Initiative will continue to provide a platform to ensure that HR for SCM remains on the international agenda.


  1. WHO: The World Medicines Situation. Medicines Prices, Availability and Affordability. 2011, [accessed 21st July 2014]

    Google Scholar 

  2. UN: The Millenium Development Goals Report 2012. 2012, [accessed 21st July 2014]

    Google Scholar 

  3. United-Nations: Every-Woman-Every-Child, UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children. Commissioners' Report September 2012. 2012, []

    Google Scholar 

  4. Matowe L: A strategy to improve skills in pharmaceutical supply management in East Africa: the regional technical resource collaboration for pharmaceutical management. Human Resources for Health. 2008, 6 (30): doi:10.1186/1478-4491-6-30

    Google Scholar 

  5. Dowling Paul: Healthcare Supply Chains in Developing Countries: Situational Analysis. 2011, Arlington, Va.: USAID | DELIVER PROJECT, Task Order 4.

    Google Scholar 

  6. First Global Forum on Human Resources for Health. 2008, Kampala Uganda, []

  7. FIP: FIP Global Pharmacy Workforce Report. 2012, [accessed 21st July 2014]

    Google Scholar 

  8. Soucat A, Scheffler R, Ghebreyesus T: The Labor Market for Health Workers in Africa: A new Look at the Crisis. Washington DC: World Bank

  9. USAID DELIVER PROJECT, Task Order 4: Human Resource Capacity Development in Public Health Supply Chain Management: Assessment Guide and Tool. 2013, Arlington, Va, [accessed July 2014]

    Google Scholar 

  10. Capacity Plus Technical Brief 12: Applying the HRH Action Framework to Develop Sustainable Excellence in the Health Supply Chain Workforce. 2013, [accessed July 2014]

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Andrew Brown.

Rights and permissions

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Brown, A., Atif, M., Hasselberg, E. et al. Human resources health supply chains and access to essential medicines. J of Pharm Policy and Pract 7 (Suppl 1), I2 (2014).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • DOI: