Thelma Lwimba, a nurse at the Masala Main Health Center in Ndola district, Copperbelt province, says, “When I started working, I didn’t imagine I would know as much about health commodities as I do today. I’ve learned a lot about pharmacy and lab commodities, and even differentiating a full catalog of medications from what we can offer adults and children, I feel like an encyclopedia. The Electronic Logistics Management Information System isn’t just about reporting; it has helped me enhance my knowledge in health commodities and their management.”
As Zambia’s supply chain becomes increasingly digitized, it has become clear that its workforce needs to be trained in new technologies and management skills to keep up with the increasing reliance on digital tools to ensure the continuity of commodity supply.
The Electronic Supply Chain Management Information System (eSCMIS) project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, has been training staff at Zambia’s Ministry of Health to sustainably deploy and maintain the Electronic Logistics Management Information System (eLMIS) to optimize supply chain management digitally. Thelma Lwimba is just one example of a healthcare worker who has benefited from the eLMIS’s convenient data management system that maintains supply chain and health commodities information.
The eLMIS system has an extensive health product database of what is managed by various Zambian facilities. It is created to tailor to the features of each level of the facility, from health posts to level 1 hospitals, providing a user-friendly and easy-to-manage interface for the facility according to their requirements. Thelma: “because I was given the responsibility to manage the pharmacy, I would spend a lot of time practicing with the system; it is an electronic database for all our health commodities and departments; transacting drugs through the system, we can easily manage the movement of commodities even within the different departments of the facility.”
Gaining competence in digital tools can help health professionals do their daily duties more effectively. For example, findings from a 2015 “Time Study” indicate that the automation of previously manual logistics operations has revolutionized supply chain management for logisticians, who previously spent 3-5 days per month working to generate logistics reports. In addition, facility-level cadres can use eLMIS to complete electronic transactions in minutes, cutting their monthly workload to around 4 hours. Time savings is crucial for improving patient care and the number of people a health worker may see daily.
“It is easy to underestimate the importance of informed decisions when managing commodities. With how busy we get, patient care always takes precedence; having commodities automatically managed by the system makes work easy,” explains Thelma, “just a few data entries within the day gives you the power to effectively and efficiently manage commodities within the facility and ensure you always have health products available for your clients.”
Since its inception, the eSCMIS Project has provided training to more than four thousand healthcare workers from a variety of cadres across the country, including but not limited to IT, data entry/management, biomedical science, pharmacy, counseling, nursing, clinicians, community health workers, and others. Utilizing advanced information systems, Zambia has improved its supply chain management. A more significant number of patients can be helped in a shorter time thanks to the digitization of health logistics. Supply chain management is enhanced by data analytics and digitally supported and deployed systems. All healthcare workers can participate in supply chain management if given a chance to learn and use the right resources.