I had the privilege of meeting Ruphin Ndumbala on my recent visit to Equateur province, DRC. Ruphin is one of the many frontline health workers who go above and beyond to ensure vaccines reach every last child. Recently, he made a promise, and I was honored enough to see him deliver.
“I used to spend at least two days’ roundtrip to collect vaccines.” Ruphin spoke outside of his clinic in rural Equateur province. “It was a big concern for my family that I was leaving behind, but also for the patients I was leaving unattended.”
Stories coming from Lolanga-Mampoko district in Equateur province often focus on the challenges communities face in accessing health care. I see these challenges every day and work with partners to help communities overcome them. But not all of our stories are about challenges. For this African Vaccination Week, we are celebrating what we have achieved over the past year.
Imagine a world with 18 million healthier children than today. Their lungs haven’t been collapsed by diphtheria, their legs haven’t been crippled by polio, they haven’t died from pneumonia before they were named.
These children grew up strong and healthy.
How do we make this imagined world a reality? This is what drives the OpenLMIS community every day. We strongly believe that with better access to supplies, data and feedback loops, vaccine rates will increase. OpenLMIS is at the forefront of moving information closer to those who need it and back to those who provided it. We do this by working with you– with partners, with governments and with health workers, OpenLMIS has developed an open source technology that supports the distribution of public health products to hard-to-reach places.
Vibrio cholerae can steal through a community quickly and quietly. This bacteria spreads in water or food, causing acute diarrhea that can cause severe dehydration and death in just a few short hours. But, cholera is both preventable and treatable.
Zambian Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya has seen first-hand the impact of cholera, and understands the vital role governments must play. As he said in a recent African Center for Disease Control (CDC) board meeting, it is unacceptable that a preventable and treatable disease such as cholera has continued to claim millions of lives worldwide. Dr. Chilufya agreed to sponsor a resolution on the elimination of cholera at the 2018 World Health Assembly – an important step towards global action.
What technology has had the biggest impact on vaccine supply chains over the last 10 years?
There is no ‘magic bullet’ that has revolutionized vaccine supply chains over the last ten years. Instead, a range of technologies working in concert with one another have contributed to more effective and efficient supply chains. Developments in cold chain technology, data gathering and analytics, and even in transportation have all had significant impacts on the availability of vaccines. These technologies all must work in-sync with each other to provide both the infrastructure and information needed to ensure vaccines are available where and when they are needed and in the right condition. We must also ensure these technologies are appropriate and available at all levels of the supply chain. As a global community, we have greatly improved the systems, infrastructure and financing to ensure sufficient vaccines reach low-resource countries, but the real impact comes when these technologies and systems work all the way down to the last mile as well.
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.
OpenLMIS is a community dedicated to collective impact. We are always learning and listening for new ideas. We organize user-centered design workshops, talk with global leaders, and incorporate best-in-class technologies to meet the needs of global health supply chains. The most recent TechNet-21 Conference provided yet another opportunity to hear more from our partners in the immunization sector.
Donors and NGOs around the world are investing in technologies that promise to make vaccines available to children everywhere. Many of these innovations took center stage at last week’s TechNet Conference, reflecting the enthusiasm to try something new. But maybe what we need is not necessarily something new – just something different.
Through my work optimizing supply chains, I have truly come to realize the importance of looking at “the big picture.” If every detail matters in the effective operation of a supply chain, it is also critical to connect the dots and understand how functions interact. Getting health products to remote health centers is no straightforward endeavor—there are many complex steps and processes involved that can make it difficult to visualize the larger, connected system.
I am proud to announce that last month a team composed of provincial government and VillageReach staff successfully conducted the first direct distribution of vaccines and family planning commodities in the Equateur Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Under the Next Generation Supply Chain Initiative, this constitutes a major milestone worth celebrating. It represents more than a year of planning and advocacy to engage government leaders and partners (UNICEF, ECC CORDAID, SANRU, OMS, and Croix Rouge) to take bold steps toward change to ensure more reliable delivery of vaccines and other essential health commodities to “the last mile”, often the most remote and hard-to-reach communities in DRC.