Special Delivery: Transporting Lifesaving Supplies to Syria

Special Delivery: Transporting Lifesaving Supplies to Syria

 {Photo credit: Gashaw Shiferaw/SIAPS}SIAPS technical advisor Alan George (standing left) conducts an inventory management exercise.Photo credit: Gashaw Shiferaw/SIAPS

Some 13.5 million people desperately require humanitarian assistance in Syria, which includes access to essential medicines and other pharmaceutical products. Managing a sound supply chain is challenging in the best of circumstances—and in a crisis like this, there are many potential pitfalls and little room for error.

That becomes clear when health workers from relief organizations talk about their work in the country. The large number of displaced persons fleeing the conflict and the unstable, dangerous conditions in Syria require a tight strategy and concerted international effort to deliver vaccines, medical products and devices, and medicines. 

First, there are the painstaking tasks of procuring supplies, including negotiating prices, estimating consumption rates, and quantifying stock—all against the backdrop of a situation in flux. Items shipped across the border require a specific type of sealing and more than a year of shelf life. Stock needs to be transported and stored in temperature-controlled trucks.

To make sure products funded by USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) are handled properly and reach the right places at the right times, OFDA called on MSH to train logistics and health workers involved in selecting, procuring, and managing medical commodities in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Yemen. The Systems for Improved Access to Pharmaceuticals and Services (SIAPS) program, which MSH implements, is a USAID-funded effort to strengthen pharmaceutical systems for better health outcomes. SIAPS held two training sessions in May in Amman, Jordan, the first such trainings the program has conducted.

“Most of our work is in development, but not exactly in the humanitarian disaster assistance space. Globally, the humanitarian response has been a knee-jerk response, but increasingly the international community is saying, ‘How can we be better prepared when disaster strikes so we’re not always in panic mode when there is a response?’” says Emmanuel Nfor, SIAPS principal technical advisor for supply chain management.


Forty-nine participants from seven countries traveled to the training. They represented 16 organizations, including the WHO, UNICEF, and the International Medical Corps. Lessons covered the basics of supply chain management, including product selection, supply planning, warehousing and distribution, waste disposal and reverse logistics, and rational medicine use.

The training also answered the needs of those dealing with deeply entrenched conflicts. Although disaster supply chains have traditionally dealt with acute needs, Syria has turned into a sustained crisis that demands a new mindset, according to SIAPS staff who conducted the trainings in Amman.

“[Organizations] still get funds every three or six months, but for protracted emergency situations like Syria, they’re there for the long haul. These demand a more planned and forward- looking process. They need to be looked at almost as development work,” says Alan George, SIAPS technical advisor.

SIAPS’ technical know-how can also help organizations better prepare for inevitable emergencies.

“Pharma and other medical supplies quantification and rational use knowledge will go a long way in helping me identify essential items and exact quantities required in Iraq, and to manage the supply chain of medical items required for the cholera response program in Yemen, my next post,” says Wardere Abdikarin, health technical advisor for Relief International, who attended the training.

“Learning about long-term supply chain management is going to help us in future emergencies.  People now understand they are able to coordinate and share information on supply chain management before a crisis happens.” 

Stacy Lu is a writer for MSH’s Pharmaceuticals and Health Technologies group.