On April 21, a few days before World Malaria Day, we announced some very encouraging results from a pilot project in Zambia through which we were testing various improvements in the public sector supply chain for lifesaving drugs. What we had been trying to do, with support from DfID and USAID, was to remove bottlenecks and get key supplies like pediatric malaria drugs off the shelves in district storage facilities and out to patients in rural areas on time.
When private sector techniques--like hiring someone to plan drug orders based on actual consumption in rural public health centers--were used to strengthen the public sector supply chain, we saw that the availability of pediatric malaria drugs nearly doubled in rural health centers in the 16 pilot districts.
This is a very significant finding, as just 7 percent of children in rural Zambia receive first-line treatment for malaria within 24 hours of developing fever (Zambia National Malaria Indicator Survey, 2008). We estimate that if these techniques are scaled up nationwide, 27,000 children could be saved from malaria deaths between now and 2015—cutting child mortality from malaria by 37 percent in Zambia.
This positive effect is multiplied when you consider that other essential supplies, such as malaria preventives for pregnant women, antibiotics, and condoms, can also be made available more widely available through the same supply chain. Weak drug supply chains are a challenge in many other parts of Africa, and so we hope that our finding--that small but smart improvements in supply chains and effective cooperation between partners can make a real difference to children's health--is useful beyond Zambia as well.