Alumni Success Story: James Riungu, ZLOG Alumni 2011 and Supply Chain Director at USAID/Chemonics International. See profile on Linkedin
James Riungu is the supply chain director for the USAID Afya Ugavi Activity in Kenya implemented by Chemonics International. He is a registered pharmacist with over 15 years of experience in management and coordination of health supply chains in sub-Saharan Africa. His areas of expertise include forecasting and supply planning in public health supply chains, procurement planning, supply chain design and coordination, and business administration.
In this time of unprecedented challenges when countries around the world grapple with infectious disease outbreaks, public health has become a national security concern. How is Kenya responding to infectious disease emergencies such as Covid-19?
Like most other countries around the world, Kenya finds itself in a challenging situation because of uncertain of supply of essential commodities needed to respond to COVID -19 pandemic. This is because demand is unpredictable and requires timely delivery to save lives, the emergency has put a strain on existing logistics systems and the resources required to respond to COVID-19 emergency are complex and expensive.
Through coordination by the National Emergency response committee, the government has promoted local manufacturing of essential personal protective equipment (PPEs) such as gloves, masks, and coveralls to compliment imports. In addition, Kenya has relaxed some of the import processes and waived some tariffs to facilitate and expedite importation of finished and raw materials from abroad. The country is doing rolling forecasts for essential medicines and medical supplies as informed by the models of the disease evolution. Temporary (makeshift) isolation centres have been put up in various counties and temporary storage facilities have been prefabricated to address the increased demand of storage space for prepositioning stockpiles close to point of use (last mile).
Government has also directed additional financial resources to ministry of health to fight the pandemic. Additional funds have been received from private sector donors and the development agencies. To cushion the poor and vulnerable population, the government is providing food ration to people living in low resource settings.
From a public health point, the government has instituted several measures to prevent and fight the COVID-19 pandemic. These include restricted movement of people, curfews (7pm – 5.00am) and testing, contact tracing and isolation of COVID-19 patients. These measures are managed by a multisectoral emergency response team.
For a few years now, you have been developing the role of Supply Chain Director at Chemonics International which mission is to promote meaningful change around the world to help people live healthier, more productive, and more independent lives. What is the best part of your day?
My best part of my day is when the strategic inventory report shows that there are no stock outs for any essential medicine in the country. This is because a stock out could mean loss of life.
ZLOG Alumni often describe ZLC experience as transformative. Looking back over the past 10 years, how has this experience been transformative for you?
At ZLC I learnt and understood the science of supply chain management and that knowledge has made me a thought leader in supply chain in the health sector in Kenya and the East African region. Whenever I encounter a supply chain challenge, I am able to easily tap into the wide network of supply chain professional (students and faculty) that I met and interacted with during the two years in ZLC (2009 and 2010).
Which challenges have you faced during your career path? Is there a project that you feel especially proud of?
The concept of Supply Chain preparedness and response has not been well accepted in Africa. We tend to be more reactive than proactive. Consequently, the leaders commit little or no funds to strengthen supply chain systems for emergency response. To change that perspective among our leaders has been my biggest challenge in my career.
The project that I am most proud of:
In 2018 and part of 2019, with funds from USAID, I lend a multisectoral team comprised of officers from ministries of Health, Agriculture, tourism, and the Interior to develop an Emergency Supply Chain (ESC) playbook for Kenya. The objective was to establish a supply chain system to manage health commodities necessary to respond to public health emergencies and ensure the commodities get to the emergency site efficiently.
The ESC playbook has evidence-based protocols for emergency response and is designed to increase availability of health commodities critical for effective emergency response. The playbook also has tools to facilitate continuous review of the protocols which includes simulations to test responses in the event of outbreaks.
The playbook has improved response through rapid access to essential commodities for emergency frontlines and reduce costs. With the ESC playbook in place, Kenya’s WHO Joint External Evaluation (JEE) score is expected to improve from 1(no capacity) to 3 (developed capacity). This playbook was used in the initial stage of COVID-19 response as a reference to help the country to respond quickly to COVID-19 in a well-coordinated manner.
What advice do you have for those wanting to enter the Supply Chain Health industry – any risks they should know about?
The place of supply chain as a major driver of profitability is gaining acceptance among the big and medium sized multinational pharmaceutical companies. Further, governments and the private sector appreciates that medicines and medical supplies form the second largest cost driver (after human resources) in the health sector. This has elevated the place of supply chain in the health industry. More and more health industry players are beginning to invest in modernizing their supply chain systems and putting more emphasis on hiring highly qualified supply chain professional. This means that demand for supply chain professionals is growing faster than the supply.
However, the traditional model of business did not place the supply chain professionals high up in the organizational hierarchy, although that is rapidly changing. This is the risk that anyone entering the health sector as a supply chain professional must be aware and ready to change.