This article was first published on The Pump on 6 April 2016.

Joyce Icyimpaye, Senior MCH/FP and Malaria Logistics Advisor, JSI Rwanda;Maggie Murphy, Technical Advisor, JSI; Layne Schwab, Program Coordinator, JSI Center for Health Logistics

Faith-based organizations (FBOs) offer a unique opportunity to reach family planning (FP) users not currently served by the public sector and can help achieve national-level contraceptive prevalence rate goals. A recent study by the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition showed that FBOs utilize a range of different types of supply chains, many of which rely on the public sector to fulfill their FP commodity needs. It is important to recognize the role of FBOs in filling FP service delivery gaps and ensure that FBOs receive the same support as other institutions to strengthen their supply chains, estimate their commodity needs, and secure adequate funding for commodities.

Recently, JSI provided training in supply chain management and quantification and facilitated a contraceptive quantification workshop with four FBOs in Cameroon. The four faith-based organizations are from the Baptist, Evangelical, Lutheran, and Presbyterian traditions and are part of an alliance of FBOs in Cameroon committed to resolving FP stockouts. This technical assistance resulted in the development of a two-year contraceptive supply plan for each FBO, and provided the needed technical foundation for valuable and lasting connections between the FBOs and key public sector partners.

In continuation of a Reproductive Health Supply Chain Coalition (RHSC) grant, Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH) contracted JSI to lead this capacity-building activity with the goals of reducing stockouts and improving the availability of FP products in the faith-based sector through improved coordination with the public sector. As the FBOs already possessed a strong commitment to ensuring access to FP products, this exercise focused on providing them the accompanying knowledge and technical skills needed to effectively run a supply chain, including quantifying annual program needs.

With multiple FBOs around the table, the training and quantification workshop created an opportunity for the FBOs to develop relationships and learn from each other as they work to accomplish the same goals. Specifically, the FBOs were able to share and collectively analyze data, discuss common supply chain challenges and potential solutions, and share experiences related to supply chain management and FP service delivery, including how and if certain contraceptive methods are compatible with religious beliefs. Going forward, the FBOs will now have a network of contacts with which to troubleshoot supply chain issues and bottlenecks, and will be able to more easily work together to approach public sector partners and donors.

In addition to strengthening the connections between FBOs, the contraceptive quantification workshop portion of the activity was a rare opportunity for the four FBOs to connect with representatives from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Ministry of Health (MOH) of Cameroon. During the workshop, the FBOs discussed their common challenges, presented their preliminary contraceptive commodity needs, and made the case that FBOs should be more integrated into the activities of these key partners. UNFPA and the MOH provided the FBOs with clear guidance on how to move forward with filling emergency commodity gaps and how to receive shipments of products that are currently overstocked in the public sector. UNFPA and the MOH also requested that the FBOs formally provide their final contraceptive commodity needs for 2016 so that they could consider including these needs in the national quantification. The FBOs have since used the results of the quantification in an advocacy brief in English and French targeting the MOH and UNFPA. If the MOH and UNFPA commit to fulfilling the FBO commodity needs in 2016 and beyond, the FBOs will have a much more reliable and sustainable source of contraceptives moving forward. These discussions also present an opportunity for the MOH to develop a more strategic approach to engagement with the FBOs to help achieve national FP goals.

In summary, this exercise not only resulted in the four participating FBOs gaining vital knowledge on supply chain management and health product quantification, but it highlighted the importance of having strong connections both between FBOs and with the broader system. Establishing these relationships and connections means improved supply chain functioning and product availability, thus ensuring that FP commodities are regularly available in the faith-based sector for clients who need them.

As countries move to fulfill their FP goals, purposeful engagement of FBOs around supply chain issues through similar exercises can help ensure the faith-based sector’s contribution to the country’s overall FP agenda.