The Global Family Planning Visibility and Analytics Network (VAN) platform enables visibility of shared data and increases communication between relevant stakeholders for the purpose of strengthening health supply chains and empowering women in their reproductive and family planning choices.

Kidita*, a 19-year-old student living in Benin, dreamed of finishing her studies before starting a family; she relied on her contraceptive medication to ensure she didn’t get pregnant to achieve this dream. But when she went to the health facility in her village to retrieve her monthly prescription, it was out of stock because the dispenser didn’t accurately forecast the monthly stock of contraceptives needed for his facility. The month Kidita couldn’t access her contraceptives, she became pregnant and knew it would be challenging to finish her studies as she had hoped with a child to care for. Kidita’s story, like that of countless other women, is the result of an underperforming health supply chain.

The health facility had poor visibility of stock-level data and communication on the data was lacking, which led to stock imbalances. They had little knowledge of when incoming orders and shipments would arrive, making it difficult to plan future orders to ensure that shelves would not be overstocked some months and bare others. These imbalances carry significant risks; in the event of an overstock, products risk expiring, resulting in waste. When contraceptive stocks are too low, women experience a gap in their contraceptive use, resulting in a greater likelihood of unintended pregnancies. The Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition (RHSC) and its over 500 members coalesced to develop a solution: The Global Family Planning Visibility and Analytics Network (VAN) platform. This technology helps supply chain actors, from manufacturers to facilities, gain better visibility of commodities’ journey. The results so far have been impressive.

Improved Data Visibility Strengthens Supply Chains

Insufficient data results in weak health supply chains. Until now, donors, countries, and implementing partners in West Africa have been making supply chain decisions using fragmented technologies and incomplete data. In response to this, the reproductive health community members of the RHSC — with initial investments from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), the United Nations Population Funds (UNFPA), and USAID — developed the VAN platform to facilitate the publication of quality data and connect countries with health supply chain analysts, buyers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and other supply chain actors. The VAN captures data from multiple sources to bring together people, processes, policies, and tools for joint decision-making about commodity stock management. This collaborative platform improves the reliability of the health supply chain, which gives women more control over their family planning needs.

Communicating at the regional level to further strengthen Contraceptive Security

In an effort to further ensure commodity security for the countries of West Africa, a regional-level mechanism helps create strong communication across partners on country contraception needs. West Africa Health Organization (WAHO), the Global Health Supply Chain-Technical Assistance (GHSC-TA) Francophone Task Order (TO), and RHSC created the Regional Committee for the Visibility of Reproductive Health Logistics Data in West Africa in November 2020. This committee brings together regional stakeholders with decision-making capacities to provide solutions to stock imbalances in the West Africa region and facilitate communication between global and regional actors. The committee meetings enable stakeholders to proactively identify problems along contraceptive commodity supply chains, provide solutions to stock imbalances, and facilitate communication between other regional and global entities.

Data and Regional Collaboration Ensure Contraceptive Availability

Just two years into the implementation and rollout of the VAN, the platform has proven to be a vital tool in preventing stockouts and overstocks.

For example, in July 2021, the Country Analyst for the GHSC-TA Francophone TO used the VAN platform to identify and resolve a problem in the supply chain. Thanks to the VAN platform, the analyst noticed an imminent stock out of contraceptive commodities in Togo. This finding triggered a search for a West African country possessing an overstock of the same product. Members of the Regional Committee, spearheaded by WAHO, worked with GHSC-TA Francophone TO and RHSC to identify Niger as the country with an overstock of contraceptive commodities. Soon thereafter, 50,000 units of contraceptives were transferred and handed over by the WAHO DG to the Secretary General of the Ministry of Health of Togo. This multi-stakeholder coordination effort endorsed by the Director-General of the WAHO ensured that Togo had sufficient stocks and the overstocked products in Niger did not expire. This joint effort, instigated by using the VAN, was a significant achievement for the VAN and its beneficiaries.

The VAN platform is an innovative solution to addressing contraceptive security in West Africa. This technology drives visibility of shared data and increases communication between relevant stakeholders, ultimately for the purpose of strengthening health supply chains to empower women in their reproductive and family planning choices.

*Kidita is fictional character and her story is an amalgamation of several real-life situations

Banner photo caption: Female pharmacist sits with patient during a family planning counselling session at the Centre de Sante in Daka, Guinea. Photo taken by Youssouf Bah

The authors would like to give special thanks Julia White, Director of the Global Family Planning VAN from RHSC and Cletus Adohinzin, Program Officer, West African Health Organization, for their contributions to the blog.

Posts on the blog represent the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Chemonics.