RHSC Director at UNFPA Supplies Partnership Partners’ Assembly in Pattaya

13th November 2022

“We’re stocked out Martyn”. I absorbed the words of my regional manager from Eastern Sierra Leone. My thoughts immediately turned to Kadiatou and her family who I had met in Kailahun the month before. She’s relying on us for her FP method. What are we going to do?

My life in SRHR has been inextricably linked to the supplies community generally and with UNFPA Supplies specifically – and I am very happy about this. So let me tell you a story of cars, vans and exciting future plans. Even Buzz Lightyear makes an appearance. 

Cars. The year was 2008, the same year that the UNFPA Supplies Partnership was born. I had just started as Country Director of Marie Stopes in Sierra Leone. We were expanding our network of clinics and outreach teams across the country, and were seeing huge demand with our supplies of RH commodities struggling to keep up. Kadiatou had received her method at our new clinic in Kailahun but now we were stocked out.

My first reaction was to go to what I know. I had an earlier career in commercial supply chain. I had once tracked down a container full of 25,000 Buzz Lightyear action figures and saved Christmas for a load of kids! So, I searched out the containers we had stuck in the port and got them out. Did it solve the problem? Only in the short term. I had forgotten something very important – to succeed in the longer term you have to use the power of partnerships.

Two important characters enter our story – Dr. Francis Smart, of the Government of Sierra Leone, and Dr. Rati Nlovu, the UNFPA Rep in Freetown. We worked together on supply plans and quantification. “We need to talk to the cars” they said. “Talk to a car?” I said. “Not cars – the CARhs – the Coordinated Assistance for Reproductive Health Supplies.” I engaged with the CARhs – a joint approach of UNFPA, USAID, RHSC and a range of partners tracking shipments and country inventories, and it really did help save the day!

Vans. We jump ahead 9 years. The 2017 FP Summit – I was Managing Director of FP2020. We were talking about Global Goods for the 2017 FP Summit and I kept hearing about a van. “Don’t be so literal Martyn it’s not an actual van, it’s the global FP visibility and analytics network”. Built on all the great earlier work of RHSC, UNFPA, USAID and a range of partners, it offered the alluring promise of end-to-end visibility! It was ambitious and today it’s a vibrant reality, with 7500 shipments covering 68 products across 37 countries, connecting them to manufacturers, procurers, and investors. 

Exciting future plans. I think phase 3 of UNFPA Supplies is tremendously exciting and I feel fortunate to have been the co-chair of the strategy and planning subcommittee between 2020 and 2022, with today’s themes of partnership, sustainability, and reaching the hardest to reach very much at its heart. I’m proud of our collective work to ensure rights and choice are enshrined as we took innovative approaches to co-financing, match-funding, and country compacts. The way the UNFPA Supplies partnership was able to show resilience and nimbleness in the face of a global pandemic and funding cuts was certainly impressive. 

And so we arrive back in the present day. I’m in Week 7 of my new role as Director of RHSC and I’m very proud to work with such an amazing team. We are the brain trust that addresses challenges and bottlenecks in reproductive health supplies working with our 555 members and eight great working groups and caucuses. We have such deep history with UNFPA Supplies, tracing our history back to that seminal meeting in Istanbul in 2001. Our 3 M’s program of action focuses in on money, markets and movement bringing key focus to domestic resource mobilization, to the LEAP contraceptive gap analysis, to Covid impacts, and to markets in our partnership with SEMA. And so, I come back to the VAN as we come full circle.

In 2021 despite Covid 19 and funding shortfalls, data from the VAN drove additional contraceptive procurement of over $26 million, averting stockouts in 13 countries. 

The next phase of our partnership will require creativity and resilience. Together we can do it. Kadiatou and millions more are relying on us. 

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