By Neil Agarwal (WG’15) and Rohit Gupta (WG’15)
Needless to say, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF and known as Doctors Without Borders in the United States) does great work. A recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, MSF deploys 26,000 doctors and medical professionals to conflict zones and developing communities in 70 countries. When MSF met with Wharton Global Health Volunteers (WGHV) in November 2013, the WGHV board realized this partnership was unique and unprecedented and was eager to help design a better procurement strategy for the hundreds of thousands of medical supplies MSF sends abroad each year.
WGHV assembled a team of seven Wharton students to tackle the project, consisting of Neil Agarwal (WG ’15), Emma Boswell (Wharton PhD candidate), Cyndi Chung (Penn MD ’15 & WG ’15), Rohit Gupta (WG ’15), Miti Sathe (WG ’15), Ankit Saxena (WG ’15), and Kevin Wu (WG ’14). In three months, the team identified methods for MSF to save an average of 52% on a majority of medical products. In April 2014, three team members travelled to Geneva, Switzerland to present their results to a pan-European audience that included MSF’s Medical Director as well as physicians and procurement specialists.
The team carried out most of the project’s work from Wharton’s Philadelphia campus between January and March 2014. Work proceeded in three phases. In Phase I, the students analyzed the global industry for basic medical supplies. The team conducted extensive secondary research, identified 37 major humanitarian non-governmental organizations that conduct work similar to MSF, and interviewed these NGOs to understand their approaches to procurement. In Phase II, the team created a framework that MSF can use to optimize procurement – they considered factors such as product quality, pricing, expiration dates, shipping costs, lead times, and international taxes. In Phase III, the team contacted nearly 50 medical product suppliers on three continents in effort to better understand their attractiveness as potential suppliers to MSF and other international organizations.
The project generated an enormous amount of data. To make this data useful to MSF, the team evaluated each supplier on a set of standardized metrics, and identified a list of the top 10 most promising suppliers. In addition, for each medical product analyzed, the team developed a recommendation for how MSF can best optimize price, quality, and other considerations.
The April 2014 presentation in Geneva was attended by members of MSF from five countries (Switzerland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the U.S.), including researchers and procurement specialists, physicians and nurses, and MSF’s Swiss Medical Director Eric Comte. The presentation lasted four hours, and the audience’s reception was overwhelmingly positive. Each recommendation that the WGHV team brought up was followed by lengthy discussion by the attendees on how MSF can change its choice of products, suppliers, or geographies to better balance its mission of quality care for individuals with its mission of access for all. The prospect of being able to save substantially on procurement was exciting, as it means MSF can reach more people with the same resources.
In addition to using WGHV’s work to generate direct savings, MSF said it will use WGHV’s results in a variety of other ways, including supporting its own advocacy efforts and supporting other organizations. For example, MSF plans to use WGHV’s presentation at a meeting of the World Health Organization later this year.
Meanwhile, WGHV team members were appreciative of the opportunity to have spent a semester on a project that both honed their skills and provided an outlet for their dedication to global engagement. “We were thrilled to have played a part in helping this incredible organization and believe this is the start of a fruitful long-term relationship,” said Rohit Gupta (WG ’15).