Joint Medical Store’s role in the fight against HIV/AIDS

“People look at HIV from the perspective of ARVs, it is much wider. People living with HIV are like any other person in society who need care. They need quality medicines like anybody else. This is the main part JMS is playing. “

My husband’s health started deteriorating in 1995 after his return from Kamuli District where he had been teaching for the past five years. His skin developed rashes like people who have leprosy. We consulted a traditional doctor in anticipation of witch craft. This did not yield us any positive results. That evening, he developed a serious cough. He asked our elder son to prepare him very hot tea.

Because I had attended a small workshop organised by the Village Health Team, I decided to go to Kikube Health Centre III for a private HIV test. And guess what. I tested positive. “Justine, you are my wife. Why do come to me with such suspicion?” asked my husband. Inside his heart, he knew he had AIDS.

I told my husband. “Dear John, we have to make a new beginning.” My husband was already feeling weaker. The doctors told us he would live a little bit longer if he started medication as early as possible. At the time, access to Anti-Retro Viral (ARVs) drugs was hard. Already, we had spent most of the money my husband had saved from school.

After five months, we had news from the Catholic Church that it would be providing support and care to persons affected with HIV/ AIDS. The support would through the Catholic and Anglican Church founded joint venture Joint Medical Store (JMS).

Formed before the AIDS scourge, JMS has had a reputable success story in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Founded in 1979 by the Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau and the Uganda Protestant Medical Bureau, JMS’ primary role was supply quality and cost effective medical supplies to mission based health facilities.

But with the advent of HIV/AIDS, JMS’ operations widened to cater for the rapid changes in the health sector. Speaking to Summit Business in an interview, Dr. Bildard Baguma, Executive Director JMS noted.

“Specifically with the advent of HIV and ARVs treatment, we have been working with a couple of development partners to ensure that products brought into the country for the treatment of people living with HIV are stored and distributed to those that actually need them.”

“We currently work with two partners; Global Fund and USAID. We receive products, store and distribute them to specific health facilities allocated to JMS by the Ministry Of Health. These are not necessarily mission based facilities.” added Dr. Bildard.

Joint Medical Store was purposely formed by the Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau and Uganda Protestant Medical Bureau to ensure that medical facilities accredited to the bureaus receive quality and cost effective products.

The government of Uganda through the Ministry of Health carried out a supply chain rationalisation. The supply of Anti-Retro Viral was divided between the three major warehouses in the country being National Medical Stores supplying government health facilities, JMS and Medical Access Uganda supplying the others. The Ministry of Health distributed the various non state health facilities among JMS and Medical Access Uganda.

There are a number of other things that go hand in hand with distribution. These include;

Capacity building

JMS provides a lot of technical support to the health facility staff to ensure that the medicines are properly stored, dispensed and quality reports are made in time. JMS provides training to the different actors responsible various aspects in the supply chain.

In addition, JMS supports health facilities to have the right storage equipment. This is conducted through regular training organised by JMS in partnership with Global Fund and USAID. For health centres that do not have such proper storage facilities, they are provided for by the development partners.

JMS doesn’t only handle donor products, the bigger aspect of its work is providing essential medicines and supplies to health facilities ongoing. Distribution of ARVs is an add-on to the already existing activities that it has.

The development partners have the products but do not have the mechanism to reach the beneficiaries. What JMS does, is provide a service between the donor and the products.

Creating accessibility

All the medicines are free of charge. They are either paid for by Global Fund or USAID. Health centres receive all the medicines absolutely free of charge. It doesn’t matter if the facility is a private for profit, private not profit still these products are free of charge.

Delivery of ARVs and HIV testing equipment is done after every two months. This ensures that health facilities are well stocked. The products supplied are capable of lasting up to four months. To ensure efficiency, JMS has delivery dates for the four zones. Each zone consists of at least 27 districts.

Regional footprint

As a country, we do not have capacity for pharmaceutical warehouse. It is very difficult to find a customized warehouse made for pharmaceuticals. In response to the ever increasing demand for pharmaceutical warehouse, JMS set up a state of the art warehouse in Mbarara for storage of JMS products with excess capacity for another partner to store their products.

“We want to be able to provide a service that is closer to the people. We believe that if we put services nearer at the regional level, then it will be easier for the facilities to access. But also, enhances efficiency by creating a lean supply chain. JMS carries out last mile delivery to all its customers. Instead of moving small quantities of products from the head office in Kampala to all over the country, it is easier when we move them in bulk to the regional centres and have them distributed. This will make JMS more efficient and serve her clients more conveniently.” Noted Miriam Ahumuza, the Communications Officer at JMS.

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