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Oct 14, 2010   |   Blog Post

Thoughts on Melinda Gates’ TEDx Talk Part 1


In Melinda Gates’ recent TEDX talk, she posed the question; how is it that coke can get its product to “far flung” places all over the developing world while governments and NGO’s seem to have so much difficulty delivering health commodities like vaccines?

Well this got us thinking a little about how this applies to us, especially because our work in Mozambique is specifically focused on this effort. Actually, it isn’t the first time we’ve thought about the coke model in our work. We used Mrs. Gates’ observations on Coca Cola as a framework to understand some of our own efforts. Pretty quickly, we see parallels in the way that Coca Cola and VillageReach do their work, at least in the way that it was presented in the TED talk!

Let’s start with the piece about real-time data. We’ve known that this is essential for our program in Mozambique to function even from the start. In fact, it is an integral part of our program design. We need to know when and at what health post there is a stock out of a particular vaccine, if there are problems at particular health centers with their refrigerators, or if immunization numbers drop suddenly from a region so that we can identify the problem and fix it. This is not as easy as it sounds. In our first attempt at collecting routine data, we used paper forms to collect the data and then sent these forms back to our Seattle office for input into our management information system. After the data was entered and reports were generated, we would send electronic versions of data analysis reports back to the field. This process took up to 3 months. We quickly found that the latency this process created significantly decreased the value of the data analysis reports. The reports were out of date and no longer as useful. However, this demonstrated to us how essential and potentially impactful real-time data could be.

Since this experience, we’ve released two versions of this management information system. Our latest version, vrMIS3 (built on the openLMIS platform), was developed on the principle of real-time data. We utilize several different data collection methods (paper forms, SMS, smartphones, computers) allowing us to extract real-time data in any environment. We now have vrMIS3 deployed that does just that – provides health workers with real-time data to enable more appropriate, more rapid decision making. In this way, we can help ensure that the vaccines are safely arriving to these “far flung” health centers and interruptions in vaccine services are avoided.

Mrs. Gates mentions the success of using local entrepreneurs as central to coke’s success. Again, we identified this opportunity and established it as part of our model from the beginning with the establishment of VidaGas. Local entrepreneurs made this happen. We’ve also been successful with “marketing” and by this we mean making people want to come to the health center for immunization services and through mass campaigns. While this hasn’t been a direct objective for us, it has been something we realize has been essential to our success. More to come on these two points in another blog!

We’ve seen success with this model in our demonstration project and are working on getting our “product” out there to the “far flung” places Mrs. Gates speaks about – just like coke. Now if we could just find a way to bring in those billions of dollars like coke does, we’d really be able reach a lot of children! Maybe we just need to add more sugar?

Jessica Crawford & Nick Amland

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