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Thoughts from the Last Mile Welcome to the VillageReach Blog
11.30 2017

Keeping Cool: A New Partnership with Bull City Learning

Vaccines are stored in refrigerators and other cold chain equipment in order to maintain proper temperature. Photo Credit: Paul Joseph Brown

Vaccines are extremely sensitive to temperature. They must remain between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius in order to remain viable. Outside of this temperature range, vaccines become less effective at preventing diseases. Because of this, the storage and handling of vaccines need careful attention. The equipment and devices used to ensure vaccines stay in the right temperature range are known as the “cold chain.” When vaccines are transported, stored in a refrigerator, or used in an immunization session, the cold chain keeps the temperature right. Significant investments have been made in updating cold chain equipment in many countries, but overall performance remains a significant concern.

With our new partner Bull City Learning, VillageReach is strengthening the vaccine cold chain in Malawi. Using human-centered design principles, we are creating an easy-to-use, interactive, digital manual on refrigerator maintenance and repair. By providing this tool for cold chain technicians, we hope to improve routine maintenance of essential equipment used to keep vaccines at the right temperatures.

Global data shows that the maintenance of cold chain infrastructure gets weaker as vaccines move from higher levels of a supply chain towards the local level where the vaccines are used. Key observations from the EVM Global Data Analysis scores indicate that preventative maintenance for each level of the supply chain is significantly lower than the set target of 80% in the 39 countries assessed in Africa. One contributing factor is the availability of trained, competent technicians and engineers for basic maintenance and repairs. Providing a new tool for cold chain technicians will support their work to keep the cold chain cold at all levels of the supply chain.

This new interactive digital job aid will provide basic, yet comprehensive, on-the-job support to improve performance.

The training cold chain technicians receiving is often didactic, transferring knowledge from the trainer to the student with few job aids to guide their work. Having job aids is particularly useful in situations where skills are infrequently used and easily forgotten. Because cold chain technicians in Malawi receive limited training and repairs vary month to month, this new interactive digital job aid will provide basic, yet comprehensive, on-the-job support to improve performance.

A Health Surveillance Assistant transports vaccines in a cold box in Malawi. Photo Credit: Paul Joseph Brown

We want to make sure this manual meets the needs of the users, so VillageReach will spend the next several months getting to know cold chain technicians and their work. Through job shadowing, in-depth interviews and group activities and discussions, we will explore the daily experiences and needs of a cold chain technician. Then, in January, a product design workshop will bring together cold chain technicians and other critical stakeholders in Malawi with the aim of launching the first version of the interactive application with users in May.

This new partnership with Bull City Learning and with our partners in Malawi will improve the routine preventative maintenance of cold chain equipment. By designing and developing an application to improve cold chain technician knowledge and skills, technicians will be better equipped to improve cold chain equipment performance and uptimes well as respond to cold chain equipment malfunctions. With improved cold chain performance and uptime, we anticipate improvements in the availability and potency of vaccines, less wastage, and more cost-efficient management of vaccines. In this initial phase of work, we will test the usability and effectiveness of the application with more than a third of cold chain technicians in Malawi. Once the application proves successful, we aim to work with additional partners to extend access to the application for all Cold Chain Technicians in Malawi.

We are extremely excited to partner with Bull City Learning in this work, providing VillageReach the opportunity to continue innovating and leveraging our existing knowledge of vaccine cold chains.

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Malawi healthcare worker