Do changes to supply chain and procurement processes yield cost savings and improve availability of pharmaceuticals, vaccines or health products? A systematic review of evidence from low-income and middle-income countries

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Introduction: Improving health systems performance, especially in low-resource settings facing complex disease burdens, can improve population health. Specifically, the efficiency and effectiveness of supply chains and procurement processes for pharmaceuticals, vaccines and other health products has important implications for health system performance. Pharmaceuticals, vaccines and other health products make up a large share of total health expenditure in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs), and they are critical for delivering health services. Therefore, programmes which achieve cost savings on these expenditures may help improve a health system’s efficiency, whereas programmes that increase availability of health products may improve a health system’s effectiveness. This systematic review investigates whether changes to supply chains and procurement processes can achieve cost savings and/ or improve the availability of drugs in LMICs.

Methods: Using the PRISMA guidelines for systematic reviews, we searched PubMed, Embase, CINAHL and the Health Economic Evaluation Database to identify.

Results: We identified 1264 articles, of which 38 were included in our study. We found evidence that centralised procurement and tendering can achieve direct cost savings, while supply chain management programmes can reduce drug stock outs and increase drug availability for populations.

Conclusions: This research identifies a broad set of programmes which can improve the ways that health systems purchase and delivery health products. On the basis of this evidence, policymakers and programme managers should examine the root causes of inefficiencies in pharmaceutical supply chain and procurement processes in order to determine how best to improve health systems performance in their specific contexts.