Timor-Leste: Better Medical Supply Management Improves Lives

January 8, 2015


  • Timor-Leste has improved access to basic health services in most rural areas but access to medical supplies is still a challenge.
  • The World Bank is supporting a new system to improve supply chain management of pharmaceutical supplies.
  • The new system is already in use at an autonomous medical store called SAMES, and is being implemented at the national hospital and other pilot sites, helping ensure the availability of medical supplies.

Dili, Timor-Leste, January 8, 2015 – The journey from the remote town of Covalima to Fatumea Sub-district near the border between Timor-Leste and Indonesia (West Timor), can only be made via a steep, narrow and winding road which, despite only being 38 kilometers (23.6 miles), can take more than two hours.

In spite of this, people in this secluded part of the country have access to basic health services, with a community health center located in Fatumea. The center has two doctors, two nurses, a midwife and a pharmacist who passionately serve more than 3,000 people in the area.

Maria Mendonca, a mother of six living in Fatumea, has witnessed the significant changes Timor-Leste has experienced since independence, including the creation of infrastructure where previously there was none.

“Healthcare standards here have improved over the last decade – now, we have health facilities, doctors, nurses and midwives in our village. We don’t need to go to the district hospital for a medical checkup or normal treatment anymore,” she said.


Difficult access to medical supplies in remote areas

In spite of Timor-Leste’s achievements in improving basic health services, access to medication remains a significant issue in some areas, particularly in remote areas without hospitals and where medications and supplies are only available at health posts or community health centers.

Responsibility for the distribution of drugs and medical supplies in the country falls under the Ministry of Health, through an autonomous medical store called Serviço Autónomo de Medicamentos e Equipamentos de Saúde (SAMES). The Ministry manages the procurement and quality inspection of these medications and supplies.

Pharmacy Assistant Santina Relvas has worked at the community health center in Fatumea Sub-district since 2012, ensuring that patients receive the most appropriate treatments, correct dosages, counselling on side effects and drug interactions, and making sure that the center always has enough stock of various drugs available.

“Drugs are the lifeblood of health care services. Ensuring the availability of drug stocks and quality management of health centers and other health facilities are of tremendous importance to the delivery of good service to community,” she said.

Santina acknowledges the challenges faced by local healthcare workers, including problems with the current distribution system, on which centers like hers rely to maintain adequate drug stocks.

“Sometimes, we run out of medicines. Many factors contribute to this such as increasing numbers of patients, and items not being able to reach us because of bad roads and lack of transportation,” she said. 

" Sometimes, we run out of medicines. Many factors contribute to this such as increasing numbers of patients, and items not being able to reach us because of bad roads and lack of transportation "

Santina Relvas

Pharmacy Assistant

New system for better management of medical supplies

Building on Timor-Leste’s advancements in healthcare, the World Bank is working with the Timorese Government to support the Ministry of Health’s community outreach services, including recent improvements to SAMES.

A financial manager and a long-term supply chain management consultant have been recruited to implement a new pharmaceutical management system at SAMES called mSupply. The system is providing essential information on drug stock at SAMES, including distribution facts, details on the international market price of drugs imported, and drug expiration dates, with the capability to generate reports that will ultimately improve supply chain management and procurement.

The system is being implemented at the National Hospital of Guido Valaderes and in pilot sites at Baucau and Dili District Health Centers, with the potential for use by the Department of Pharmacy in the future.

Director of SAMES, Maria Odete, is aware of the obstacles that her organization is facing and is looking forward to improving the current standard of medication supply for the people of Timor-Leste.

“Improving the delivery of drugs and medical supplies to health facilities in districts, sub-districts and sucos [villages] and ensuring their availability at all times will enable better access to healthcare and more lives saved,” she said.