Doing the doable to get critical medications & supplies to people in need during COVID-19
There’s no denying that COVID-19 means an upheaval for so many industries, and tragedy for so many families. But with any momentous upheaval also comes opportunity for change— lasting change, and that sometimes pushes us toward the future.
Alight’s healthcare services in Rwanda are extensive. We currently manage health infrastructure and nutrition services—including clinics and pharmacies—in Gihembe, Nyabiheke, and Mahama Refugee Camps. Together, these programs reach over 50,000 people every quarter, including those with chronic diseases that require regular medications and clinic visits, such as HIV, diabetes and heart disease.
But there’s quite a bit behind the scenes that keeps these health services up and running. And chief among them is medications and related supplies—ensuring pharmacies are stocked and ready to respond. We make sure that needed medications and other health products are always available. Alight’s main pharmacy is located in the capital city, Kigali, with pharmaceutical field sites outside of the refugee camps, and then stocks inside the refugee camps themselves.
Previously, all of the purchasing, record keeping, request forms, and documentation for these medications were done manually, on paper. Trips to exchange information were happening to and from the pharmaceutical field stores on a monthly basis, and from the field stores to the refugee camps on a weekly basis. This has proved to be an incredibly efficient system, with the ability to monitor stock consumption and respond quickly to trends. But with movement around the country restricted due to COVID-19 prevention measures, and procurement of these drugs and supplies suddenly becoming limited, the team needed to rethink how things were done, and quickly. There were thousands of lives on the line!
Keeping the Supplies Flowing
One of the first logistics questions the Rwanda team needed to determine is how to ensure that medication stocks stayed supplied as needed and that COVID-19 protective gear was attainable. Products suddenly became more expensive and delays were expected. Face masks weren’t easily available locally. The team quickly realized that what was needed would soon not match what was coming in.
So they had to get creative. The procurement team expanded the pool of qualified suppliers, pulling different medications and supplies from here and there until they could come up with what they needed. To withstand the changes on market prices, they frequently reviewed and adjusted their needs, adopting market prices and specifications of available supplies. The products received from different sources helped the team to maintain enough inventory, including protective masks and equipment to get through the most difficult months of the pandemic without a gap in services to patients.
As the threat of COVID-19 loomed and Rwanda’s prevention protocols closely managed movement from Kigali to the rural areas of the country, the team also had to adjust their normal patterns of distribution. Instead of traveling once per month to stock the field pharmacies, deliveries were made to cover three months of supplies. And, any resources available were put to use, with ambulances already traveling to transport patients doing double duty as drug delivery mechanisms, lessening the number of times a trip was needed. That way, they could comply with movement and lockdown restrictions to help prevent the spread of the virus, while at the same time making sure everyone’s needs were covered.
The Rwanda program had considered making most if not everything digital in the past, but the hurdles to get there always seemed too big. That all changed, spurred by COVID-19 pandemic!
The team went completely digital—now documents arrive electronically, all teams across the country communicate via Whatsapp, Skype, Zoom, or other online platforms. And, since communication has improved, processes like necessary authorizations are digitized and moving more quickly.
“The digitization has allowed us to be more accurate in our reporting,” says Ronald Kakuba, Rwanda’s Operations and Logistics Coordinator. “And another plus side is that all these documents can be simultaneously viewed by all the stakeholders. We used to wait for monthly meetings to get this information, but now it’s happening every day.”
One Giant Leap
Despite the challenges and disruptions that the procurement team has confronted, in the end it’s meant growth, learnings, and a giant leap forward. It’s made everyone realize that big change is not only possible, but within their reach.
“Before COVID-19, we didn’t think we could work with less meetings, online and electronic tools, and on our own remotely from home,” says Evariste Manirumva, Alight Rwanda’s Pharmacist. “But we’ve learned that we can improve our systems and need only to move forward, put it in place, get sources, and see how we can implement it. I’m really proud of the services that have been provided despite the challenge of COVID-19.”
Ronald agrees. “Everyone was 100% focused on getting the job done. Keeping the people we serve in mind motivated everyone to do double duty and innovate. We had to make decisions quickly and in compliance with all the regulations. But we signed off on those decisions and the teams implemented them. It worked.”
Want to Learn More?
Read more about all the incredible work that team Rwanda is up to, or get in touch with questions. And, to help refugees in Rwanda and beyond build lives filled with meaning and purpose, you can give here.