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Woman wearing a mask looking at a pregnancy test.

6 Ways to Improve the Birth Control Supply Chain

Have you had a hard time finding toilet paper recently? Flour? Eggs? Birth control? We all have.

2020 and the COVID-19 virus have presented real challenges for consumers wanting access to basic products. From flour and toilet paper to condoms and contraceptives, in many places worldwide, the supply chain has simply broken down.

Birth control, in particular, has suffered supply chain issues and this should be of concern to all of us. Women in developing nations and lower-income U.S. neighborhoods can become trapped in a cycle of generational poverty when they don’t have access to affordable contraception.

Individuals and organizations that work with women across the world know that all of society benefits when women don’t have to take care of a baby that they can’t afford. Financially and morally, it is important that women have access to birth control. This is why such non-profits as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation work to provide insight into how we can fix the birth control supply chain and give all mothers and children the chance to succeed.

Here are 6 of the top tips and takeaways that answer the question: How Can We Fix the Birth Control Supply Chain?

World map with transportation vehicles.

  • Invest in and deliver more long-term contraceptives for women

When disruptions in the supply chain for birth control mean long periods in which women will not have access, it becomes that much more important for organizations to provide long-term contraception. In the words of Melinda Gates, it is of vital importance for NGOs to work with businesses to develop and deliver a “two-year supply” of birth control to women, in the form of a drug that “she can just take home and administer to herself every three months or every six months.” This would allow low-income women to avoid costly travel and doctors’ visits while being able to use contraception without any gaps caused by emergencies.

  • Create emergency matrices that triage the most needed supplies to the neediest areas

Large suppliers and organizations such as the Gates Foundation must look to sort customers (or beneficiaries), products, and suppliers based on both importance and vulnerability. In advance of an emergency and supply chain breakdown, each entity must be ready to identify which customers and patients will be served first, which areas or states are the most vulnerable, which suppliers are the most critical (and what some alternatives might be) and how supplies will be delivered in emergent times.

  • Expand the sourcing of sexual health products

As with many products, reproductive health supplies are generally sourced from a small handful of countries such as China. When those nations, in an emergency such as the Coronavirus, stopped production, it started a domino effect that led to delays, shortages and empty shelves in Egypt, Nigeria, Iran, Pakistan, Uganda among others. The current crisis suggests that future planning for businesses and charitable organizations must include sourcing essential goods and services (such as sexual and reproductive health commodities) from a wider variety of suppliers worldwide.

  • Increase inventories ahead of inevitable emergencies

The Coronavirus outbreak has revealed the danger of running too lean when it comes to carrying inventory in sexual health products. Small retailers, fearing uncertainty, will likely not be convinced to increase their stock of contraceptives against future emergencies. Larger businesses and organizations, however, could and must take the initiative to lay in and stockpile supplies of condoms, IUDs, birth control pills, and other supplies against supply chain failures in the future.

  • Focus on resilience and flexibility over cost

A brief by leading global management consultants Bain and Company agrees with the previous two points on expanding sourcing and increasing stockpiles and adds this must be the plan going forward to increase resiliency. Businesses and organizations that may resist spending more to ensure uninterrupted supply chains must realize that the money invested in supply chain resilience will pay dividends in accelerated growth, customer satisfaction, cash flow, and savings. Their analysis shows that companies that invest in creating supply chains that can weather emergencies grow faster, increasing order rates by 20 to 40% and avoiding revenue drops of up to 66%.

  • Redouble efforts in education to stave off “panic buying”

Education into the value of birth control is a key feature of most medical and organizational work in sexual health. As this crisis has shown, emergencies that create fear and uncertainty mean the need for more, not less, information that needs to be shared with women. The Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare in Great Britain recently published a pamphlet that explained, in detail, how women would continue to have access to birth control, in an attempt to stave off the panic-buying and hoarding that can leave many small retailers without good supply. Women who depend on contraception need clear and believable information on both how to get birth control and assurance that the supply will remain steady.

Consequences of the Birth Control Shortage

Woman thinking about medical supplies.

Shortages of contraceptives don’t affect women and children by an immediate risk of illness, as might a shortage of antibiotics. The risk that does exist, however, is that women’s physical and mental health (and therefore that of their children) will suffer in the longer term.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that “the human cost of unintended pregnancy is high.” These costs include (but are not limited to):

  • For women and their families:

– Lost work/less work and less income

– Medical complications and higher medical bills

– A lower standard of living

– Higher costs for food, health care, and housing

  • For governments and states:

– Higher spending on social programs (the ACOG notes that U.S. births from unintended pregnancies resulted in $12.5 billion in government expenditures in 2008 alone, a number that has only risen in recent years)

– Losses (both financial and moral) in developing countries from unsafe abortions

It is to the benefit of public, private, and government sectors to work together to make sure that the current fragility of the global supply chain in sexual health and contraception does not happen again.

We do not know what the next crisis will be, but we can be sure that it will come. In an increasingly turbulent world, supply networks must evolve and grow to keep both citizens (women and their families) as well as businesses strong.

Learn more about our sexual health products here at eDrugstore.

 

Elizabeth Nichols is an experienced and flexible author with extensive experience in both popular media and academic publishing. She specializes in health, medical and travel writing.