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  1. Paul Dowling
  2. Cold chain equipment
  3. Friday, 25 May 2018

As a relative newcomer to the EPI supply chain world, but not to healthcare supply chain I have always struggled with some of the terminology.

One term in particular bugs me. And not just because I can be a bit pedantic but because its genuninely confusing: the term "inventory management" when used in EPI Supply Chain terminology.

Now I always understood inventory to be something you or your organization/value chain/supply chain worked on, added value to, to ultimately resell or pass along to an end user. Medicines can be inventory (for a manufacturer or a supply chain). Widgets.

Now in the EPI world inventory management is often used to refer to what I would refer to as "assets". To me refrigerators are only inventory if you are making them or are distributing them. If refrigerators are something you use to store vaccines, they are an asset (or a piece of hardware) but they are not inventory.

So in meetings when people talk about inventory management, one half of the room thinks we are talking about managing vaccines, and the other half thinks we are talking about assets like fridges and freezers.

Words matter, we need to speak the same language. A plea: can we talk about inventory management when we refer to managing medecines/vaccines/ etc and asset management when we talk about fridges, freezers (and indeed trucks and other hardware)?

(And of course you could do an inventory on your assets - i.e. count your fridges - just to confuse things even further but I believe asset managmeent or "cold chain asset managment" is a better, more encompassing term)

Modibo Dicko Accepted Answer

Hi Paul !

I think the confusion was created by Frenglish-speakers like me. We translate the English word “inventory” with the French one “inventaire”. However, “inventaire” is merely the action of counting what exists: 

  • in a warehouse (it doesn’t matter whether vaccines or spare parts or new fridges waiting for installation, etc.)
  • in a health facility (it doesn’t matter whether vehicles or boxes of syringes, etc.)
  • in a district, a region, a country or even in the world!

The list of pieces of equipment (or quantity of commodities) that results from the counting exercise is also referred to as “inventaire”.

On the other hand, as Wikipedia defines it “Inventory (American English) or stock (British English) is the goods and materials that a business holds for the ultimate goal of resale (or repair).”

So “inventaire” is an action of counting goods or the list/quantity of goods while “inventory” is the actual goods themselves.

To make things clear, one could try and do the “inventaire” of all atomic bombs in the world; but I am not sure the American and North-Corean Presidents will give him or her the permission to see the “inventories” they have, will they? J

Best regards,



Modibo Dicko


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  1. more than a month ago
  2. Cold chain equipment
  3. # 1
Sophie Newland Accepted Answer

Hi Paul. I agree, words matter. Just a commitment on my part to comply with your proposed terminology below, assuming a meaningful, wider approval:

  • inventory management = managing medicines/vaccines/ etc.
  • asset management = managing fridges, freezers, cold boxes, trucks, hardware, equipment that is valued and registered in the MOH asset registry.

However, I still think it is important that we allow the use of ‘inventory’ as a noun. There are many people who spend a lot of time thinking about ‘cold chain equipment inventories’ for both routine and periodic applications by national immunization programs, Ministry of Health maintenance teams & planners, and their partners.

WHO already has sanctioned the use of ‘inventory’ in the documentation on medical equipment management:

  • Inventory = types and numbers of medical devices to be tracked by the hospital and those that are specifically included in the maintenance programme. (Source: Medical equipment maintenance programme overview. WHO Medical device technical series. 2011. ISBN 978 92 4 150153 8, page 14, Accessible in the TechNet Resource Library or at

Would you consider this use of ‘inventory’ be permissible in the new 'inventory' data standard?


  1. more than a month ago
  2. Cold chain equipment
  3. # 2

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