The 15th TechNet Conference convened last month in Bangkok, bringing together a global network of professionals and practitioners committed to strengthening immunization services in developing countries. As my first time attending, it was a great opportunity to “geek out” about vaccines with a whole bunch of other vaccine “geeks.” The conference presented a mix of global policies and trends, as well as presentations from different countries on innovations for the vaccine supply chain that are improving efficiencies and increasing vaccine coverage rates. It was an opportunity to share experiences and learn from others’ work around the world.
A few key themes emerged from the conversations and presentations during the conference:
1. Network design and system optimization.The design of the vaccine supply chain is critically important to the success of a country’s immunization program and its efficiency, and essentially the ability to ensure every child gets these life-saving vaccines. The system includes a variety of components—human resources, financial flow, transport, distribution design, leadership, political will, data, cold chain equipment, and the processes that support the interweaving of everything else. As duly noted during the week, sometimes the system needs a minor uplift in order to find efficiencies, and sometimes the system needs a complete overhaul to make improvements and reach more children. But, a key message from the conference is the importance and need for government leaders and ministry of health decision makers to start asking the questions about their system design to find improvements.
…it is important that government leaders and ministry of health decision makers start asking the questions about their system design to find improvements.
2. Cold chain equipment. New and improved technologies for the cold chain and temperature monitoring are becoming available and more accessible every day such as Nexleaf’s ColdTrace, Beyond Wireless, Solar Direct Drive fridges, and passive vaccine cooling devices. With new vaccines being developed and introduced, we must invest in cold chain equipment that is more reliable to guarantee the potency of vaccines. Progress in this area will be supported by Gavi’s Cold Chain Equipment Optimization Platform which will help support and improve country investments in new cold chain technologies.
The best built system will still fall apart if the right people are not in place.
3. The people component. The best built system will still fall apart if the right people are not in place. We heard about logistics technical working groups in different countries that are having success with improving the planning and coordinating of vaccine distribution, creating collaborative spaces for partners to contribute to improving the planning and coordinating of vaccine distribution, and raising the awareness and importance of a strong supply chain.
4. From data collection to utilization. You can’t manage what you can’t see. What I found interesting about this part of the conversation is that the technology components of data – the information system, paper forms, dashboards, or even analytics – are only one small aspect of any system. The people and processes that surround and support the technology for data collection and utilization are central to successful technology solutions, and must be emphasized and developed in parallel with the technology innovations.
…key takeaway – how to take these global conversations back home to each of the countries that represented
The key takeaway for me from this conference came on the last day when we talked about advocacy and how to take these global conversations back home to each of the countries represented. There is a lot of energy at the global level for change, for improvements in the vaccine supply chain, for increasing vaccine availability, for ensuring vaccine potency through to the very last mile, for designing and operating the most efficient system possible. It’s time for us to move those conversations forward at the country level. Let’s not wait for a couple of years, or for the next TechNet Conference to have a “Groundhog Day” with the same conversation.
At the next conference, it would be great to see more thought leadership and input from the country level. I would like to see countries like Mozambique taking the next bold steps toward system redesign; more deployments of innovative remote temperature monitoring systems; and new cadres of supply chain professionals being trained and integrated into supply chain systems in more countries.
Simply put, I want to see change. And it starts with taking these global conversations to the local decision makers around the world.
Simply put, I want to see change. And it starts with taking these global conversations to the local decision makers around the world. Speaking for VillageReach in Mozambique, and as contributors to the EPI Logistics Technical Working Group, we have an entry point to introduce the global conversation locally, and we are taking action.
Mozambique has already started the process of considering changes to its supply chain design based on results generated from new tools like HERMES modeling. We are in the process of working with the Ministry of Health to conduct a modeling activity of the vaccine distribution system at the national level, a huge milestone, and a bold step toward change.
In two years, at the next conference, I look forward to hearing from our colleagues and especially our country partners on the results of the changes they have already made, on the bold steps they have taken to move change forward.