Featured project: Smart Delivery of Vaccines

from Shermin de Silva

Smart Delivery by Jennifer Schmitt is a project that appeals to the head and the heart.

The Problem: Providing basic and vital medical services, like vaccines, to rural corners of the globe is hampered by lack of basic infrastructure, like functional roads.

The Solution: This innovative research project wants to harness the power of mobile phones to create a delivery network for vaccines.  A Facebook-like Ap will facilitate users to coordinate their travel plans with where vaccines need to go, making use of extra cargo space to get the products there.  It’s a bit like a rideshare, except it’s vital vaccines that will be hitchhiking along.  The beauty of this plan is that the travellers will be going to their respective destinations anyway – by whatever means necessary – which should make the process far more efficient than if making the journey especially to transport the vaccines.

In recent years, cell phone technology has really boomed, particularly in developing countries and rural areas where phone towers are easier to set-up than landlines.  In Sri Lanka, where I work, nearly everyone I know has a cell phone – we even get reception in the middle of the National Park, where I work!  This has lead to all sorts of break-through developments around the world.  The most interesting thing to me about these developments is that these applications target people who are typically the least served by technology. Market aps, for instance let farmers keep track of prices so they know where to transport their goods and when.  Banking aps let people carry out small-scale transactions. It seems only natural that phones should also play a role in improving healthcare.

The research itself sounds fascinating – the team will first need to have an accurate idea of how many cell phones are in use, and how people literally move about.  One can easily imagine that what they learn will have other important applications.  What’s more, if the project succeeds in Tanzania, there are likely to be dozens if not hundreds of other locations where such a system could be usefully employed. I hope this project really takes off – who wouldn’t want to see it succeed?  And, really exciting news: the NorthStar Intiative for Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Minnesota has agreed to match all donations up to the goal amount (i.e. $5,000)! Way to go!

So head on over and support smart vaccine delivery right now!

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