World AIDS Day, commemorated on December 1 each year, is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness.
A decade ago, an HIV-positive status was often a death sentence especially for those living in developing countries. At the time, the medicines needed to prolong life, keep the virus in check, and treat AIDS-related illnesses were hard to find at the ‘last mile’ of the health system’s reach.
Natalia of Zambezia Province, Mozambique (pictured here) found out her HIV Positive status seven years ago. Since then, she has made almost weekly trips to her health facility to collect medicines and consult with the health workers on managing her status. This trip to collect medicine takes her around an hour-and-a-half one way.
Like many people in Africa, Natalia lives far from her closest health facility. Many health facilities, in turn, lie far off the main road – hundreds of kilometers down poorly maintained dirt roads, barely more than a hiking trail in width. During the rainy seasons, it can take weeks for medicines dispatched from national warehouses to reach some health facilities. Some life-saving medicine is even delivered in traditional canoes.
International governments and donor organizations have made great strides to increase the affordability of medicines for those living in developing countries. To such an extent that often the cost is almost no issue for patients. However, for many finding the medicines they need, when and where they need them, remains one of the greatest barriers.
There have been times when Natalia made the journey to her health facility, only to find the medicine is not available, due to delayed or incomplete deliveries. For people like Natalia this situation can mean a productive day is lost and may lead to community distrust of the facility and its staff.
Project Last Mile works to address this by building public health systems’ capacity in supply chain and strategic marketing by sharing the expertise of the Coca-Cola system.
Project Last Mile, a pioneering cross-sector partnership between USAID, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Fund, Coca-Cola and its Foundations believes life-saving medicines, including those used to manage HIV and treat AIDS-related illnesses, should be in reach of every person in Africa. To achieve this, we collaborate with regional Coca-Cola networks in participating countries to share the expertise of the Coca-Cola system with the local Ministry of Health.
After starting in 2010, Project Last Mile has subsequently supported work across eight African countries – strengthening the local health system’s ability to supply all citizens with the life-saving medicines they need, no matter where they live.
In Mozambique and Tanzania for example, Project Last Mile uses the same mapping approach (whose GPS data collection can be seen in the photo above) Coca-Cola practices to develop optimized route-to-market logistics and delivery plans to streamline the governments’ medicine warehouse and delivery system.
Project Last Mile is sharing Coca-Cola’s strategic marketing expertise in Swaziland to increase the demand and use of HIV-related services and medicines, especially for young women who are at highest risk for HIV infection.
Project Last Mile is leveraging Coca-Cola’s experience to support the government of South Africa in designing and building efficient routes-to-market to help revolutionize the way medicines for patients with chronic illness, including antiretrovirals used for managing HIV, are distributed and collected.
In Liberia, Project Last Mile is sharing Coca-Cola’s best practices in distribution and organizational development to rebuild health systems devastated by the recent Ebola outbreak.
If life-saving medicines are consistently available – when, where, and in the quantities, they are needed (on time and in full) – those living with HIV and AIDS-related illnesses have a greater chance of leading happier, longer, and more fulfilling lives.
Project Last Mile and its partners are committed to improving the availability of life-saving medicines in Africa and inspiring other private sector companies to share their unique assets and strengths towards building an AIDS-free generation.
Find out more about Project Last Mile here: www.projectlastmile.com