The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) DELIVER PROJECT work together to strengthen public health commodity supply chains by standardizing bar coding under a single set of global standards. From 2015, UNFPA and USAID collaborated to pilot test how tracking and tracing of bar coded health products could be operationalized in the public health supply chains of Ethiopia and Pakistan and inform the ecosystem needed to begin full implementation. Pakistan had been using proprietary bar codes for inventory management of contraceptive supplies but transitioned to global standards-based bar codes during the pilot. The transition allowed Pakistan to leverage the original bar codes that were preprinted by global manufacturers as opposed to printing new bar codes at the central warehouse. However, barriers at lower service delivery levels prevented full realization of end-to-end data visibility. Key barriers at the district level were the lack of a digital inventory management system and absence of bar codes at the primary-level packaging level, such as single blister packs. The team in Ethiopia developed an open-sourced smartphone application that allowed the team to scan bar codes using the mobile phone's camera and to push the captured data to the country's data mart. Real-time tracking and tracing occurred from the central warehouse to the Addis Ababa distribution hub and to 2 health centers. These pilots demonstrated that standardized product identification and bar codes can significantly improve accuracy over manual stock counts while significantly streamlining the stock-taking process, resulting in efficiencies. The pilots also showed that bar coding technology by itself is not sufficient to ensure data visibility. Rather, by using global standards for identification and data capture of pharmaceuticals and medical devices, and integrating the data captured into national and global tracking systems, countries are able to lay the foundation for interoperability and ensure a harmonized language between global health stakeholders.
Hara, L., Guirguis, R., Hummel, K., & Villanueva, M. (2017). More Than Bar Codes: Integrating Global Standards-Based Bar Code Technology Into National Health Information Systems in Ethiopia and Pakistan to Increase End-to-End Supply Chain Visibility. Global Health: Science and Practice, 5(4), 678–685. https://doi.org/10.9745/ghsp-d-16-00350