How innovation is improving vaccine delivery

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Gavi is focused on expanding our engagement with technology companies to bring innovation in the ways we deliver vaccines to the hardest-to-reach children.

Seth LinkedIn Blog 20112017

A medical drone comes into land. Credit: UPS/2016.

20 November 2017 - Private-sector innovation can generate significant global health gains, but scaling-up innovation in developing countries can be a challenge. This is why Gavi recently convened a discussion in Silicon Valley with leaders from the business community, philanthropic organizations, venture funds, and academia – including Y Combinator, Salesforce, Google.org and Tencent – to discuss how Gavi can facilitate vaccine delivery in a way that both meets global health priorities and benefits the companies delivering care.

The discussion was held in Menlo Park in Silicon Valley and was chaired by Zvika Krieger of the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and served as the first in what will be a series of consultations between Gavi and the technology sector in different countries. Gavi already has had success in partnering with forward-thinking companies to improve vaccine delivery – since our founding in 2000 we have worked with partners to immunise 650 million children and prevent more than 9 million deaths. Yet, because the vaccination rate has stalled at about the 80-percent level in recent years, Gavi is focused on expanding our engagement with technology companies to bring innovation in the ways we deliver vaccines to the hardest-to-reach children and achieve our goal of vaccinating 300 million more children by 2020. 

The technology community can play a critical role in solving challenges around vaccine delivery: identification of those in need of vaccines; real time data gathering and analysis; supply-chain expansion and improvement; and demand generation. The discussion in Silicon Valley offered examples of how companies are developing breakthrough solutions to some of these challenges. Three CEOs from companies Gavi has partnered with shared details of how Gavi’s assistance has helped them successfully enter new markets and improve care for local populations. 

Nexleaf Analytics – a startup supported through a partnership between Gavi and Google.org – builds a wireless temperature monitoring system for vaccines in rural clinics and health facilities. This technology, called ColdTrace, is vital because vaccines need to be kept between 2°C and 8°C, otherwise their efficacy will be compromised. The World Health Organization and UNICEF have found that less than a third (29 percent) of low- and lower-middle-income countries have proper information systems and management for vaccines. 

Nexleaf has plans to scale across a several countries, an achievement co-founder Nithya Ramanthan attributed to Gavi’s assistance in identifying market demand and trends that the company can use to make decisions. Ramanthan said that the private sector and the public health space are often “misaligned” and Gavi’s ability to ensure companies meet the needs of local markets has been an important factor in Nexleaf’s success.

A health worker looking inside a vaccine refrigerator, monitored using the Nexleaf Analytics ColdTrace technology. Credit: Nexleaf Analytics/2017. 

Jonathan Stambolis, CEO of Zenysis – a data-analytics company and one of the pacesetters of Gavi's 2017 INFUSE challenge – also said Gavi helped the company identify where there is a need for its product. In addition, Zenysis said, Gavi worked with the company to build in-country relationships and find entry points to working with governments. Public-private links have been essential for Zenysis because the company works with government officials to use data to make targeted, cost-effective healthcare interventions. In Ethiopia, for instance, the company helped the government analyze data to determine where resources should be allocated to increase coverage of a measles vaccination. 

Keller Rinaudo, CEO of Zipline, pointed to a misconception in Silicon Valley that investments should start in a developed county before expanding to developing countries. Rinaudo argued that in fact developing countries could be among the most attractive places for innovation. The combination of market need and low regulatory compliance hurdles often means companies can bring products to market faster than they could in Europe or the United States.

Zipline is an example of the benefits of launching a product in a developing country. Through a partnership with Gavi and UPS, the company started a blood-delivery service in Rwanda in 2016 that uses drones to deliver medical products to remote, hard to reach areas in a matter of minutes, versus a matter of hours or days. Zipline now delivers two-fifths of the country’s blood supply outside the capital, and it announced over the summer that it would scale to the rest of Rwanda as well as to neighbouring Tanzania, where more than two-thirds of the population live in rural areas. Launching in Rwanda meant that the company’s product could come to market quickly and have an immediate impact. It also gave the company a chance to scale up quickly and make the necessary improvements in their technology in real time.

A drone is launched. Credit: UPS/2016.  

David Wallerstein of Tencent noted the sheer distance alone poses difficulties for companies to know what is happening in Africa, or even in Geneva. He identified Gavi as a critical source of information that can tell companies to build their markets overseas where there is a bigger impact, and asked about the best processes to engage Gavi. 

Citing the numbers that show Gavi’s success in Africa, Cabot Brown of Carabiner, LLC emphasised the importance of building a strong and visible case to Silicon Valley investors who may not know the opportunities even exist. There is a powerful way to make the case for entering these markets, and Gavi can help them. Others stressed the need for identifying a clear process by which stakeholders can engage Gavi – a process that was robust enough to absorb the possible influx of pitches.

The discussion in Silicon Valley highlighted how companies are using innovative approaches to meet demand and help achieve beneficial healthcare outcomes. At the close of the event, Gavi committed to fostering further innovation by helping technology companies better understand where opportunities exist in Gavi-supported countries and by establishing a protocol for how stakeholders can engage the organization. At Gavi, we are excited to see more ideas for improving vaccine delivery and will continue to work closely with companies that have promising ideas for strengthening health systems. 

 

>690 million

Since 2000, Gavi support has contributed to the immunisation of more than 690 million children.

WHO/UNICEF 2018

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