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Aggregating Demand for Pharmaceuticals is Appealing, but Pooling Is Not a Panacea

As low- and middle-income countries reduce their reliance on donor aid, they are increasingly obliged to assume some degree of financial responsibility for donor projects. This challenge will be particularly complex in the procurement of health commodities. In recent decades, recipient countries have benefited from donor-aggregated demand and pooling mechanisms, negotiated prices, purchasing, and delivery of commodities. However, as countries shift away from donor support, their challenge will be finding a way to aggregate demand in order to achieve the benefits that the pooled purchasing arrangements of vertical health programs now provide. As a first step in tackling this challenge, much can be learned from a diverse group of pooled procurement initiatives that have developed over the past 40 years in high-, middle-, and low-income countries.

This note reviews the rationale and functions of these initiatives, notes their potential benefits and barriers, and draws lessons regarding how best to incorporate pooled pharmaceutical purchasing models into the design and implementation of health financing reforms in countries in transition. We first provide a brief background on the procurement challenges faced by countries in transition. In section 2, we provide an overview of different types of pooling initiatives, highlighting the key features of each. Leveraging our research and key interviews, we outline the real and potential benefits of pooling in section 3, and the most pressing barriers that organizations or countries will face as they seek ways to aggregate demand in section 4. In section 5 we discuss some of the issues that countries and development partners should address when considering pooled procurement initiatives and make two recommendations: (1) countries and development partners should conduct further research on the merits of pooled procurement, and (2) they should develop a straw model of a pooled procurement governance structure that could be tested using a series of pilots.

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