The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared ‘Health for All’ its theme for World Health Day 2023. As the WHO marks its 75th anniversary, it is imperative to recognise that healthcare has come a long way since its inception, but there is still a lot of work to be done in making healthcare more inclusive and equitable, especially for women.
The healthcare supply chain is crucial to delivering healthcare for all because it determines whether women can access the medication they need when and where they need it. Dr Pretty Mubaiwa, Director of Corporate Affairs & Gender at the Africa Resource Centre (ARC), emphasises that women must be included at every level of the supply chain, from decision-making to the practical implementation of supply chain models that deliver medicines to recipients of care.
ARC, Africa’s public health supply chain institution, is advocating for policies and practices promoting women’s inclusion and participation in healthcare supply chain decision-making, including developing gender-sensitive supply chain management solutions, strategies and appointing women to leadership positions that influence decision-making.
Supply chain design can be addressed more effectively when women’s barriers to accessing medication in Africa are understood and reflected in the solutions to improve the chronic accessibility issues for medicines and health products. Women must be actively given space to share their experiences as patients and the ultimate recipients of the supply chain’s efforts.
In its work in Uganda, ARC has made significant progress in developing decentralised channel delivery models for antiretroviral treatment. Implementing these models since 2019 has resulted in positive feedback from patients, particularly women, who have benefited from the increased convenience and accessibility of healthcare.
Dr Mubaiwa explains, “This is because decentralising access to medicine can also address specific barriers that recipients of care face. It is widely acknowledged that many women in Africa, especially in marginalised and rural communities, carry a higher burden of childcare responsibility, lack access to financial and economic means and face socio-cultural barriers that make it difficult to have positive health-seeking behaviours and stay on treatment. Therefore, gender intentional supply chain solutions for medicine delivery like the decentralised channel delivery model are practical solutions which promote and enable women’s ability to access healthcare.”
Additionally, the lack of female leadership in many public health supply chains in Africa highlights the problem that decision-making and implementation are not gender intentional, thus, are unable to serve everyone. Increasing female leadership can help advocate for women’s healthcare needs and ensure that funding is directed towards supporting women’s health.
“To truly achieve ‘Health for All’, the people working in supply chain should reflect the demographics of their context at every level. This will mean that there is equitable access for women and men who make a career in healthcare supply chain and its related fields, and there will be equable access for patients that the supply chain is designed to serve,” adds Dr Mubaiwa.
Therefore, the WHO and the global health community must prioritise and work towards creating healthcare supply chains that are inclusive of women’s needs and leadership. Only then can true healthcare equity be achieved, and the world can move closer to achieving ‘Health for All.’