University of Southern California

Getting Help to Those in Need
4th Annual Global Health Supply Chain Summit at USC examines critical issues and offers innovative solutions to delivering care worldwide
November 15, 2011 • by News at Marshall

In the arena of global health care, shortages abound—from lack of skilled medical practitioners to necessary medical supplies and diagnostic equipment, most notably in rural areas of low to middle income countries in the developing world. What can realistically be done to treat those in need and prevent the millions of people who die each year from diseases and complications that could have been treated for a mere few cents a day? The 4th Annual Global Health Supply Chain Summit (GHSC), held Nov. 3-4 at the Davidson Conference Center at USC, addressed the ongoing challenges and highlighted innovative solutions to providing health care worldwide.

Sponsored in part by the Marshall School of Business, the summit brought together more than 20 distinguished speakers from private industry, government, non-governmental organizations and academia to discuss the challenges and potential alternatives to the status quo. This year’s summit drew around 100 attendees representing 20 countries and organizations including the United Nations and the Clinton Foundation.

The summit opened with perspective by representatives from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Kevin Pilz, senior commodity security and logistics adviser and coordinator of the USAID’s People that Deliver Initiative, spoke about the need to rethink the usual approach to delivering health care to those in need—which is short-term costly training solutions. According to Pilz, the global health community needs to focus more on producing and incorporating qualified personnel for supply chain management into health systems and creating long-term, locally driven solutions that are self-sustaining and not so dependent on external funding.

As Sriram Dasu, associate professor of information and operations management at Marshall, explained: “The gap between what needs to be done and what can be done is staggering and not only in low-income countries but here in the United States as well.” Dasu, who co-organized the summit with Yehuda Bassok, professor of information and operations management at Marshall, also pointed out the need to find local sustainable solutions to issues such as a shortage of health care professionals, which includes not just medical personnel but even people who can stock shelves.

“Local human capacity to re-engineer and manage health systems can be developed. We need to rethink tasks and ask how can this be done differently through task-shifting and mixing technology substitutions,” said Dasu.

Speakers outlined inventive solutions to health care needs, from a mobile device offered by MobiSante that can record ultrasound images to a smart card and allows women in Kenya to save in advance for medical expenses.

Presentations, such as that by Dr. Staffan Bergstorm, WLF Maternal Health Project Tanzania, country director of the Karolinska Institute, highlighted examples where task shifting has had a major impact on health outcomes. Bergstorm spoke about his organization’s success in training non-doctors, including midwives, in comprehensive emergency obstetric care to help lower infant and maternal mortality rates in the country—among the world’s highest. Such practices are necessary to address critical doctor and nursing shortages, which the World Health Organization estimates to be from between 2 to 4 million.

Entrepreneurial solutions were outlined by speakers including Carol Spahn, executive director of Accordia Global Health Foundation. Spahn spoke about her organization’s approach to creating and initially funding centers of excellence to drive health innovations in Sub-Saharan Africa, which will eventually evolve to being entirely locally run and funded.

“It’s really about creating leadership, not just individual but institutional leadership,” said Spahn. “We want to create a critical mass, so that the best and brightest stay in Africa.”

The need to create local, self-sustaining solutions and effectively utilize resources is even more critical today given the worldwide economic downturn, according to Julian Schweitzer, principal of the Results for Development Institute. “We’re in an age of austerity, which puts a premium on how to do more with less,” said Schweitzer. “When even the World Health Organization says 20 to 40 percent of health expenditures are being wasted, there are huge opportunities to do more.”

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.