Using the Internet of Things to Manage Vaccines and Save Lives in Tanzania

April 27th, 2018 | Viewpoint


Remote temperature monitoring (RTM) is not new to me; I have worked with this technology at regional and district vaccine stores across Tanzania since 2016. RTM solutions can monitor vaccine cold chain temperatures, send SMS alerts to health workers when the equipment gets out of the ideal temperature range, and provide valuable data to improve overall cold chain performance. I have seen first-hand how RTM can prevent vaccines from spoiling.

What is different and exciting about this current RTM effort between Tanzania Immunization and Vaccine Development Program (IVD), JSI, and Nexleaf Analytics is that we are bringing the Internet of Things (IoT) to rural health facilities. IoT describes a network of devices that are embedded with software and connectivity which enables them to connect and exchange data. This creates opportunities for more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems, bringing improved efficiency and accuracy and reducing the burden of effort for human intervention. IoT is already taking off in many different areas: in healthcare with drones delivering medical supplies to remote areas; energy management systems for buildings that will automatically adjust the window blinds based on the temperature; or traffic conditions that update your Google maps and give you real-time driving directions. While the Internet of Things is still an unfolding phenomenon, the IVD is demonstrating its drive to own, innovate, and adopt new smart technologies that can improve the health of its people.

Over the past three months, JSI and our partners worked closely with the District Immunization and Vaccine Officers (DIVOs) from 4 councils (Mvomero, Kilosa, Morogoro MC, and Kilombero) to create and train RTM installation teams, oversee device installation and deployment, and address challenges as they came along. Some of these challenges, such as: collaborating with DIVOs to arrange transport using vehicles that are used across many government programs; customizing the installation for facilities’ cold chain equipment by setting up new electric plugs or accommodating solar panel systems; and ensuring that a reliable internet network was available, were expected.

So far, we have installed a total of 120 ColdTrace 5 (CT5) devices: 113 in health facilities and 7 in District Vaccine Stores in 6 councils. CT5 is a WHO-certified RTM solution, developed by Nexleaf Analytics, that is specifically designed for health facilities in rural areas. A temperature probe is placed inside the vaccine refrigerator and is attached to the CT5 device to continuously upload temperature data to a dashboard. Over the next two years, we will install up to 2,000 CT5 devices in health facilities across the country. Ultimately, the IVD’s goal is to install devices in all health facilities nationwide.

We have been successful thus far due to the close collaboration and coordination with various local stakeholders including the Ministry of Health; President’s Office-Regional Administration and Local Government (PO-RALG); Morogoro Region Administrative Secretary (RAS) Office; and District Executive Director offices for Mvomero, Kilosa, Morogoro MC, and Kilombero. Our work has been challenging, but well worth the effort especially when we saw the healthcare workers’ reaction. They were pleased to have this extra “set of eyes” to help watch their cold chain equipment and make sure that their vaccines stayed in good condition.

There were some healthcare workers who were a bit wary of the new technology and the inevitable arrival of the Internet of Things. For them, it seemed like a scene from science fiction, with machines that can talk to each other. However, as soon as they saw how it worked, they embraced the idea of IoT and the efficiency it brought to their work.

With CT5’s real-time data, health workers can be more responsive to problems with cold chain equipment, maintenance technicians can better diagnose those problems, and IVD managers can effectively plan for overall system and equipment improvements. Above all, the vaccines are more likely to remain potent so that children can receive safe vaccinations and lead healthy lives.

*This post is the first in a series of blogs on JSI’s work in Tanzania. Check back next week for the second blog.

Written by: Alex Mbyalu

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