Over a year has passed since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
In many nations, the crisis has exposed longstanding fragilities in health systems as well as inequalities caused by lack of access to care, food resources or employment opportunities.
Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, is facing the first recession in 25 years, prompting the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to say: “the pandemic is endangering the success of decades of work towards the achievement of the African development agenda1”.
Achieving Pan African COVID-19 immunisation coverage will require the biggest health programme interventions in the history of the continent, and digital technologies have a vital role to play.
Many factors contribute to a successful vaccination programme rollout - having enough vaccines is just one of them.
Access to adequate stocks of ancillary items like syringes or Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), so both patients and doctors can stay safe, needs to be guaranteed. Vaccines need to be stored in fridges or boxes whose temperature can be monitored to ensure efficacy, while healthcare practitioners and patients have to be at vaccination sites according to a schedule.
Stock-outs also need to be minimised as much as possible to avoid needless, repeated journeys.
This can seem a small issue in many countries. However, due to the unique geography and population distribution of Africa, where the WHO estimates there’s one hospital per million people, patients often have to travel far and take time off work to reach health facilities.
If they arrive at a site and find out the vaccine is not available, they might not be able to repeat the journey, having repercussions for their ability to be immunised.
mVacciNation was developed in 2012 by Mezzanine, a subsidiary of Vodacom, and one of Vodafone Business’ IoT solution houses.
The suite of solutions has already helped the National Department of Health in South Africa to register over 700,000 health workers on its COVID-10 Electronic Vaccine Data System (EVDS) and thus complete over 180,000 vaccinations.
The power of data
mVacciNation includes a logistics platform and a last-mile supply-chain management system, SVS, which provides real-time visibility for health workers of all available vaccines and ancillary medical equipment (like syringes) nationally. It also offers Cloud-based integration with almost any cold-chain monitoring IoT sensor, generating crucial data to monitor product integrity.
The platform is linked to a stock-control centre, allowing individuals to register on the platform so they can be assigned to vaccine service points on a specific day. When they are vaccinated their digital record is updated and a follow-up appointment is automatically scheduled in case a second dose is required. Meanwhile, an electronic certification that can be linked to national vaccination passport platforms is generated.
And once deployed to support the fight against COVID-19, the platform can stay in place to support African countries managing future large-scale health programmes, like infant immunisation.
Making a difference
There’s a Zulu word, Ubuntu, which means “I am because you are”.
If this crisis has taught us anything, is that we are all interconnected, perhaps more than we ever realised. And that inclusive progress can only be achieved by joining forces, so we can build resilience for the post-Covid world.
A few months ago, I spoke about access to connectivity and technology as key elements of the future of Africa: mVacciNation proves the positive, long-term, impact digitalisation can have on people and communities, even in resource-constrained settings.
That’s why, as we all navigate the way towards the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s crucial for us to continue offering digital tools and connectivity to build the resilient, inclusive and sustainable economies of the future.
2 To assist even further with long-term resilience of the healthcare infrastructure, Vodafone Foundation and Vodacom Group donated an additional €5 million to communities across Africa to purchase vaccine doses and buy cold-chain technology. That’s essential to keep many vaccines and medicines safe and effective, especially in hot countries.
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