How One Innovation Can Help Scale a Solution for Millions
If you’re reading this article, you have certain luxuries not afforded to millions. You obviously have access to an internet connection, whether at home, work or school; electricity; likely indoor plumbing. These invaluable advances in technology in the developed world prove that innovation makes our lives easier. This story proves that an innovative application of resources can actually save lives.
Innovative solutions are required when the goal is to scale and sustain a program, particularly one that addresses one of the most dreaded diseases in Africa. We all have to be creative, resourceful and relentless as we pursue a better application of resources or more effective processes to meet critical human needs. We can transform lives—likely on a larger scale—by joining with like-minded forces to scale an existing program, leverage efficiencies and drive outstanding results.
Finally, experience has taught us that none of us should be surprised to find that life-changing innovation can be powered by commonplace technologies.
The Innovative Meningitis Vaccine Project
Epidemic meningitis is one of the most dreaded diseases in Africa. It threatens 481 million people in the ‘meningitis belt’ that spans sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal to Ethiopia. Victims of meningitis are mostly the young, and the disease can kill 10 out of every 100 people within hours of infection.
In 2007, the foundation made a significant investment in the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP), a partnership between the World Health Organization (WHO) and PATH, an international organization that creates sustainable, culturally relevant solutions, enabling communities worldwide to break longstanding cycles of poor health. The goal of MVP is to eliminate epidemic meningitis as a public health problem in sub-Saharan Africa through the development, testing, licensure, and widespread introduction of a meningococcal A (Men A) conjugate vaccine. The first component of the effort to eliminate the meningitis epidemic was the introduction of the Men A conjugate through preventive mass vaccination of at least 9.1 million people in Burkina Faso.
Lifesaving Luxuries such as Refrigerators and Incinerators
The development of the Men A vaccine was a powerful innovation and a worldwide medical phenomenon. But if the vaccine exists and no one can get it, it’s powerless. You have to operationalize the vaccination process at scale to protect a continent from devastation.
Millions of people in Africa needed the vaccine. Though vaccine packaging was designed to be as small as possible to accommodate limited cold-chain capacity, there was an immediate shortage of cold storage and vaccine refrigerators. Another major hurdle MVP had to address was the inappropriate disposal of needles and vaccine waste that was an environmental and public health hazard. These are the types of details that keep miracle drugs from getting to people that need them.
Therefore, the foundation’s focus was on the logistics of the vaccination process; on providing system equipment including refrigerators, cold rooms, incinerators and vehicles allowed for safe storage of the vaccine and safe removal of waste. Thanks to added focus and resources for logistics, the Men A conjugate vaccine could be stored both at the national level (in the capital city of Ouagadougou for initial vaccine and receipt and warehousing) and at district and health center levels. It could also be transported safely to various locations. This enabled millions of people in Africa to be successfully vaccinated.
What did innovation look like in Burkina Faso? Innovation looked a lot like everyday appliances and trash cans. Never doubt that refrigerators, incinerators and cold rooms can actually save lives.