Ensuring life-saving vaccines reach all children in the world requires a healthy dose of innovation. All too often, vaccine delivery systems in developing countries rely on technologies and approaches that haven’t been updated in years or sometimes decades. This can slow or even stop immunisation.
There are many examples of cutting edge innovation that could help countries modernise but all too often they lack the right market conditions for scale-up. Businesses offering new technology frequently struggle to secure the necessary funding, while governments may lack the expertise required to select appropriate, cost-effective solutions.
At last year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Gavi launched a new initiative to help fix the problem. Innovation for Uptake, Scale and Equity in Immunisation (INFUSE) seeks out tried and tested innovations that have the potential to improve vaccine delivery. It then helps secure the capital and expertise to take them to scale. In 2016, INFUSE selected seven of the most promising innovations, or Pacesetters.
One year later, INFUSE has launched its second call for innovations and its pioneering approach is already helping the first Pacesetters. Here are three examples to watch out for:
Pacesetter 1: Energize the Chain
Harvey Rubin, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States
To keep vaccines safe and effective, vials must be kept at a consistent low temperature from the time they are manufactured right up until a child gets their shot at a clinic. In many lower income countries power can be unavailable or unreliable. Current solutions often involve ice blocks and manual temperature monitoring, which leaves lots of room for human error.
Energize the Chain sources electricity from remote mobile phone base stations to power the fridges that keep vaccines cool. It can also use the mobile networks to send automatic text messages to health authorities updating them on temperature levels at cold chain facilities.
Energize the Chain has launched programmes in both Zimbabwe and Ghana. They are now expanding into other countries.
Meet the innovators
Pacesetter 2: Khushi Baby
Ruchit Nagar is the co-founder and CEO of Khushi Baby, who recently completed his Master’s at the Yale School of Public Health.
The traditional method for making sure children receive the right vaccines is the immunisation card. But these are easily lost, damaged or destroyed. The information about a child’s vaccine record perishes with it. Implementing a high-tech alternative in places where there’s no internet or power can also be tricky.
The Khushi Baby necklace is a way for children to carry their vaccination records around their necks. A health worker can view and update immunisation records simply by tapping their phone against the necklace; they can access the same information offline through an app. As soon as the health worker has internet access, the app backs up the information to a central registry, allowing the data to be used for future planning.
In Rajasthan, India, where the necklace has been developed and proven effective, the necklace’s black threads symbolise protecting a child from harm.
Meet the innovators
Pacesetter 3: Nexleaf Analytics
Nithya Ramanathan is co-founder and President of Nexleaf Analytics, which has pioneered ColdTrace. Nithya is also an assistant research professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
How many children around the world are immunised with correctly stored vaccines? Right now, the standard of refrigeration and temperature monitoring varies so much that we cannot answer this question. Yet the information is critical to ensure that vaccines are safely stored in a variety of challenging environments.
To help developing country governments make informed decisions about their cold chain equipment needs, Nexleaf is working with google.org and Gavi to scale up an analytics framework to aggregate data from every point of the health system in order to improve vaccine cold chain performance. This will yield useful real-time data on cold chain performance and inform best practices across all countries. Easy access to key analytics enables health system personnel to take action to procure and maintain the equipment necessary to safeguard and amplify their resources and investments in immunisation.
Meet the innovators
Stay tuned for more updates on Pacesetters and Gavi’s efforts to drive innovation to reach every child with life-saving vaccines.