Building Resilient Sexual and Reproductive Health Supply Chains during COVID-19 and Beyond

Following the identification of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the Chinese province of Hubei in December 2019, governments worldwide enacted stringent measures to help prevent and manage its spread. The response to what the World Health Organization (WHO) would later declare a pandemic required global supply chains to make rapid adjustments to the new needs and demands of an upended world. The strains caused disruptions at all functional levels of the supply chain including manufacturing, freight and logistics, procurement, health systems, and service delivery.

System-level efforts to limit COVID-19 transmission, including widespread transportation closures and workforce reductions, exacerbated manufacturing challenges and created an atmosphere of uncertainty that spurred panic buying and hoarding in the early days of the pandemic.

Rapid changes in freight operations, including a sharp drop-off in passenger flights (which carry freight as belly cargo and use passenger ticket fares to subsidize costs for cargo), air/port closures, and lockdowns affected all modes of freight and made transport of goods more expensive and uncertain.

Policy changes and restrictions in China and India disrupted manufacturing and the flow of goods, resulting in order fulfillment delays. In response to surges in COVID-19 and supply chain uncertainty, countries began to shift resources from sexual and reproductive (SRH) services and supplies to the pandemic response. Within countries, travel restrictions created challenges to accessing care, while “stay at home” messaging and fear of contracting COVID-19 reduced demand for in-person SRH services. An overall increase in barriers to accessing SRH services during the pandemic created changes in demand for SRH products and the way services were accessed. 

Given this backdrop and concerns about the longer-lasting effects of SRH product availability, it was imperative to understand the disruptions to supply chains during the pandemic. The findings from our research were used to create a roadmap for the SRH community to mitigate ongoing COVID-19-related risks and challenges and improve supply chain resiliency overall.