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Supplies and Logistics

UNICEF Procurement Services: Life-saving medicines for people living with HIV/AIDS in Malawi

© UNICEF/HQ04-0511/Louise Gubb
MALAWI: A box containing a generic antiretroviral drug to treat HIV-positive patients is loaded onto a truck at the international airport warehouse facility in Lilongwe, the capital.

LILONGWE, Malawi /COPENHAGEN, Denmark, 5 July 2005 - Malawi is a small, beautiful country in Southern Africa with a population of 12 million people. But it has not been spared by the scourge of HIV/AIDS. It is estimated that, at any time, some 170,000 people need antiretroviral medicines (ARVs)*.

Committed to increase the number of people receiving free treatment, the Government of Malawi faces huge challenges: how and where to buy such large quantities of antiretroviral (ARVs) medicines at a reasonable price? How to ensure the quality of the medicines? How to ensure that the ARVs are delivered continuously and on time?

Thanks to an effective Sector Wide Approach, combining resources from several funding sources, the Government of Malawi has the financial means at its disposal, but realizes that it needs assistance. The Global Funds to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, one of the funding agencies, had required UNICEF to procure and distribute the ARVs – “This was a wise decision”, says Dr. W. Sangala, Acting Secretary for Health, Ministry of Health, during a visit to Supply Division in Copenhagen. “We started with 3,000 people on treatment a few months ago, and we now reach out 20,000 people living with HIV/AIDS. It’s going so well that I can’t believe it myself”, he adds.

While the original objective was to reach 80,000 people with free treatment, the Government of Malawi intends to ask for more funds to provide ARVs to 170,000 people.

This remarkable success is due to the close co-operation between the Ministry of Health of Malawi, the UNICEF Country Office in Lilongwe and UNICEF Procurement Services in Copenhagen.

© UNICEF/HQ05-0710/Christine Nesbitt
MALAWI: Children residing at Consol Homes Orphan Care in the village of Namitete near Lilongwe, capital of Malawi. Many of the children have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

Based on the local assessment of the needs, and with funds channelled through the Ministry of Health, UNICEF Procurement Services will buy and distribute $6.5 million worth of ARVs in 2005 (up from $1.3 million in 2004). Because UNICEF buys significant quantities of ARVs globally, it is familiar with this complex market and in a position to obtain affordable prices. The organization understands patent issues and benefits from nearly 60 years of experience in procurement and logistics. Last but not least, UNICEF guarantees the quality of the medicines it buys since they have to be pre-qualified by the World Health Organization. “We’re a poor country, so we must get the best prices. At the same time, we must ensure the quality of the medicines. We find that UNICEF Procurement Services listens to us and that they respond exactly to our needs,” stresses Dr. Sangala.

Satisfied with progress on the procurement and distribution of ARVs, the Government of Malawi is now looking at the next logical step: capacity-building. “We want to be able to buy and distribute ARVs ourselves within three years,” says Dr. Sangala. “It will be a gradual project: we have asked UNICEF Procurement Services to progressively train our staff and to help us improve our procedures and structures. The procurement and distribution of ARVs are complex and the transfer of knowledge and responsibilities will take place in a phased manner with assistance from UNICEF.”

In addition, following a meeting at the Headquarters of Supply Division in Copenhagen, the Government of Malawi is now looking at other options such as the purchase of medical equipment through UNICEF Procurement Services.

*Source: Ministry of Health Malawi



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