Is the supply chain profession ready to save the world?

The distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine from drugmakers to billions of people around the world is likely to be the supply chain management profession’s greatest endeavour ever. Healthcare supply chains that were stretched and strained during the COVID-19 pandemic with the distribution of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) may not be ready. The industry’s most pressing imperative is to upskill healthcare supply chain professionals, to equip them for the coming challenge, according to SAPICS, Southern Africa’s Professional Body for Supply Chain Management.

To this end, the annual SAPICS Conference, which takes the form of a virtual event next week, features an array of powerful healthcare-focused presentations. “It is critical that the supply chain community shares lessons and know-how that can help to increase access to quality healthcare, including the COVID-19 vaccine,” stresses SAPICS president Keabetswe Mpane.

“Vaccine supply chains are vastly more complex than PPE supply chains. Vaccines are time and temperature sensitive. Health officials have stated that the COVID-19 vaccine that eventually comes to market will most likely need to be maintained at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius throughout the shipping process. Besides the vaccine itself, there are secondary supply chains that must be considered, such as the billions of syringes that will be needed. The world has never needed professional, suitably qualified supply chain professionals more than we do right now,” Mpane asserts.


Now in its 42nd year, the annual SAPICS Conference is Africa’s leading event for the supply chain profession. A panel discussion facilitated by the Africa Resource Centre (ARC) at next week’s 2020 virtual conference will put the spotlight on how governments in Africa are strengthening their health systems by engaging with the private sector. “It is important to understand how this collaboration can be done at a practical level. This session focuses on the engagement stories and how the public and private sectors are currently working together to improve health outcomes for all,” explains Mpane.

Because medicine stock outs can be life-threatening, supply chain professionals must ensure appropriate levels of medicine availability to meet patient needs. The current processes require the already overburdened healthcare practitioners to manage the medicine storeroom, count the stock levels, calculate the replenishment orders, and issue stock to the consulting rooms when required. Many of these process steps fail, resulting in stock shortages. A SAPICS 2020 presentation by seasoned supply chain specialist David Crewe-Brown will provide insights on the design of a new, analytically based replenishment planning process. It will also offer conference attendees the tools used to create a recommended order, in an effort to automate the stock replenishment process.

A co-presentation by Dominique Zwinkels and Alexis Strader of UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and People that Deliver, and Andrew dos Santos of CLX South Africa, will discuss the desperate need for a workforce with specific supply chain competencies in the health system. “Many low- to middle-income countries lack a professionalised supply chain occupational category. Without trained professionals to manage health supply chains, drugs and supplies do not reach the patients who need them,” Mpane states. This presentation will outline the People that Deliver (PtD) Supply Chain Management (SCM) Professionalization Framework, which is a systematic approach to workforce development, where all practitioners are able to find a career path for growth and development, allowing supply chain professionals to lead and operationalise public healthcare supply chains and achieve country and organisational objectives.


A panel discussion at the SAPICS Conference will examine the importance of youth capacity building to enhance the performance of healthcare supply chains, in order to improve the availability of health supplies and life-saving medicines. The panel will be facilitated by Chemonics International, an international development company that works with organisations like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and other bilateral and multilateral aid donors, and has a global network of experts working in more than 75 countries.

Private sector supply chains in the healthcare profession are also under the spotlight with a presentation on the journey that Roche Pharmaceuticals’ drug supply chain team went on using the Supply Chain Operations Reference Model (SCOR) to identify, assess and optimise performance across the business.


“COVID-19 has put the spotlight on the supply chain profession. When a vaccine arrives, it may literally be up to supply chain professionals to save the world. SAPICS is proud to be playing our part and putting skills development, learning, knowledge sharing and networking at the top of the agenda at this critical time,” Mpane concludes.


The 42nd annual SAPICS Conference takes place on 23 and 24 November 2020. For further information or to register for this year’s online event, call 011 023 6701 or email Up-to-the-minute information is also posted on the SAPICS website: