May 2008 in Review
In the spotlight
Highlights of Coalition's ninth membership meeting

This month, more than 95 people assembled in Brussels for the ninth membership meeting of the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition. Hosted by the European Commission, the two-day event culminated a week-long series of pre-meetings, workshops, and other special activities, many of which are described in this newsletter. Other activities included a session by WHO on access to quality medicines in reproductive health (RH), a PATH-sponsored stakeholder consultation on the WHO Prequalification Programme for Essential RH Medicines, and a special preview by Dalberg Consulting of the Minimum Volume Guarantee/Pledge Guarantee (MVG/PG) mechanisms.

Dominique Dellicour, Acting Director for the Directorate on Quality of Operations at the European Commission (EC), opened the meeting with a speech highlighting the importance of RH commodity security to the EC. It was a fitting start to a meeting that had as one of its principal goals the desire to demonstrate Europe’s role in meeting the supply challenge. The meeting also allowed the Coalition to welcome its new members (70% of whom attended!), exchange ideas, hear updates on Working Group (WG) activities, and begin defining new strategies to actively engage its ever-growing membership. The issue of sustainability also figured prominently with a presentation by Coalition Director John Skibiak on upcoming efforts to seek out donor funding for the Secretariat and other operations. Finally, representatives of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation discussed the Foundation’s RH grantmaking strategy. All materials from the meeting are being posted on the Coalition website as soon as they become available. For more information, contact the Secretariat.

Coalition on the scene
Coalition welcomes four new members in May

Four new members joined the Coalition in May, bringing the total number to 67. The new members are:

To apply for membership in the Coalition, click here.

Tot ziens, Margret Verwijk

This month, members of the Executive Committee and general membership bid a fond farewell to Margret Verwijk who, for the past two years, has served as Coalition Co-Chair. Margret’s tenure coincided with a critical period in the Coalition’s history, most notably the establishment of its Brussels-based Secretariat. Never one to shy away from work or a good challenge, Margret played a central role in formulating the Coalition’s Strategic Plan and new membership policy. An eloquent speaker and woman of action, Margret will be sorely missed as she leaves the Coalition and moves her way up the ladder of success at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

With Margret’s departure, the Coalition will transition back to the post of a single Chair, currently held by Wolfgang Bichmann.

Executive Committee to fill seat for the Global South

The Secretariat is calling for applications to fill a new seat on the Executive Committee. The seat is designated for a regional association or network from the Global South. Establishment of the seat is seen as an important first step in ensuring that the Coalition’s key policy discussions and decisions remain global, and that they encompass the views and perspectives of its partners in the developing world.

Following guidelines established under the Coalition’s new membership policy, applicant organizations may come from any sector, public or non-governmental, must be members of the Coalition, and must demonstrate their commitment to and past experience in RH commodity security. The deadline for applications is July 31, 2008. Those wishing more information on the new seat may contact Coalition Director John Skibiak.

Coalition launches New Technologies Caucus

There is growing interest among members as to how the Coalition can play a more effective and proactive role in advancing new or under-used technologies. To this end, a group of 14 interested Coalition members met as the New Technologies Caucus (“Caucus” meaning a group of individuals who come together around a common cause) during the second day of the membership meeting.

This new informal group will work within the existing WGs to raise awareness and generate discussion around RH products currently under manufacture, that have regulatory approval (at least in their country of manufacture), and that have the potential to be purchased for public sector programmes. The group also anticipates opening the discussion on other RH technologies, such as oxytocin and the HPV vaccine, that are not yet part of routine Coalition dialogue. No further meetings are yet planned. For more information, contact the Secretariat

Medicines Transparency Alliance (MeTA) gets underway

On May 14-15, Steve Kinzett of the Coalition Secretariat attended the launch of a joint DFID/World Bank/WHO initiative called Medicines Transparency Alliance (MeTA). With partners from government, civil society, and the commercial sector, MeTA’s goal is to increase access to medicines and public health commodities through greater transparency and accountability in medicines supply chains. Focusing its work in seven pilot countries (Ghana, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Peru, Philippines, Uganda, and Zambia), MeTA seeks to improve information flows and increase transparency and accountability in the selection, regulation, procurement, sale, distribution, and use of medicines. Given the potential synergies between the Coalition’s and MeTA, future collaboration would seem to be in the stars. For more information, visit the MeTA website or contact Steve Kinzett.

Highlights from the Working Groups
Systems Strengthening Working Group (SSWG)

On Monday, May 19, members of the SSWG gathered at the offices of the Secretariat to launch what would ultimately become a week’s worth of discussions and deliberations. Major progress was reported on the MVG/PG, which the group noted had benefited tremendously from the oversight of Sangeeta Raja at the World Bank. WG members also heard from Sandra Rolet about work underway on the joint KfW/USAID/WAHO West Africa Regional Financing Mechanism, and from the L Harrington Group on the results of their recent review of Supply Chain Management software tools. And last, but not least, SSWG received updates on the Countries at Risk (CAR) group, the PATH/WHO/UNFPA Prequalification Workshops, and the new Supplies Information Database (SID) – a web-based collection of country-level documents on contraceptive security soon to be launched on the Coalition website.

SSWG members were also busy looking towards the future. Using their current workplan and the Coalition’s new Strategic Plan, the group identified a host of new workstreams. These included strategies for harmonizing procurement planning and demand estimates; for contributing to the professionalization of public health logisticians; for strengthening private-sector supply chains; and for enhancing access to under-used medicines. The SSWG concluded its pre-meeting sessions on Tuesday, May 20, when members of the RHI Management Group conducted a day-long visioning exercise to chart a course for transitioning stewardship of the RHI to UNFPA/Copenhagen in late 2009.

Workstreams aside, Brussels may one day be best remembered by the SSWG for its transition to a new leadership. At their Monday meeting, members elected David Smith of UNFPA/Copenhagen as their new Head. He replaces Alan Bornbusch, who stepped down after three highly productive years in that post. The group also selected Kevin Pilz of USAID as leader of the CAR, replacing Steve Kinzett who is credited with reinvigorating the group over the past year. For more information on any of these activities, please contact the new SSWG Head, David Smith.

CAR Group: The CAR group met via teleconference on May 28 to discuss stock issues in Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda, and Paraguay. As a result of the meeting, USAID followed up on a shipment of Lo-Femenal to Ghana which, because of delays in customs, had resulted in a stock-out at the central warehouse. UNFPA developed a practical spreadsheet to assist the Government of Paraguay to match received shipments to government procurements versus donations. UNFPA and USAID will confer with local offices in Uganda to ensure that condom shipments match public and NGO sector needs.

The CAR group reflected upon the advent of the Procurement Planning and Monitoring Report – a tool that allows countries to access information from key donors – and its impact on their own role. The group agreed on the added-value of the CAR as a forum for discussing upcoming commodity procurement and donation strategies, and their expected effects at country level. At the same time, they recognized that the CAR was not the appropriate forum for considering non-emergency donation requests, as these are best dealt with via existing country level mechanisms. For more information, contact Kevin Pilz.

Market Development Approaches Working Group (MDA WG)

With its monthly teleconferences now facilitating regular information exchange, the MDA WG used its breakout sessions during the membership meeting to brief and update members on the seven workstreams under development. On the issues of “quality of medicines” and “pre-qualification” (workstream 4), the MDA WG undertook to work closely with the SSWG.

Members also agreed to develop a total market initiative in a country, yet to be selected, to test and hone the ideas outlined in some of the workstreams. The idea, currently being fleshed out, would be to conduct a practical exercise to facilitate market segmentation with a broad range of in-country stakeholders from the public and non-public sector, and define the target audiences and roles and responsibilities of the stakeholder groups involved. For more information on the MDA WG, please contact WG Head, Ben Light.

Resource Mobilization and Awareness Working Group (RMA WG)

The RMA WG engages in a broad range of advocacy efforts to increase access to and support for RH supplies. During the week of the membership meeting, the group met with a host of new members to develop a growing portfolio of new and exciting ideas. On Wednesday, May 21, Valerie DeFillipo of IPPF hosted 35 new and old WG members to a half-day update and “getting to know you” session. In attendance were old time WG members, such as Partners in Population and Development, as well as representatives of the Family Planning Association of Bangladesh, Fundacion Mexicana para la Planeacion Familiar A.C. (MEXFAM), Marie Stopes International (MSI), Countdown 2015 Europe and Constella Futures. In his remarks to the group, Coalition Director John Skibiak highlighted the pivotal role of advocacy in the Coalition’s work, particularly its ability to get the Coalition’s key messages understood by a global audience.

During the membership meeting, members of the WG reassembled in breakout sessions led by Population Action International (PAI) to identify two new workstreams. One calls for the translation, dissemination, and use of the Advocacy Toolkit, soon to be posted on the Coalition website. The other calls for the identification of what advocates refer to as “the global ask” – defining and stating as simply and directly as possible what it is we would like key stakeholders to do to address the supply challenge. This work will build, at least in part, on current efforts to update the Supply Gap. The WG also contemplated a number of other workstreams, such as providing advocacy support to the WGs (specifically in connection with the MVG/PG), undertaking a mapping exercise of global advocacy efforts on RH supplies, and ensuring that supplies make the agenda for ICPD +15. PAI has been the Head of the RMA WG since the Coalition formed in 2004. Elections will take place later this year. In the interim, please contact Mercedes Mas de Xaxas for more information.

Upcoming Events

18 June

Final meeting with Dalberg Consulting on the MVG/PG by Interim Advisory and Counterpart groups; 16.00 (CET); 10.00 (EST)
18-20 June                             Reproductive Health in Emergencies Conference 2008; Kampala, Uganda (see for more details)
2 July Countries at Risk (CAR) group meeting; 16.00 (CET); 10.00 (EST)