This article was first published in TechCabal Daily and has been slightly altered.
Nigeria’s National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) has teamed up with Gricd—a cold chain technology company—to use the Internet of Things (IoT) to deliver 4.2 million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to all 36 states of the country and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
This news comes on the heels of last month’s announcement when the West African country was reported to have lost about 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. According to a spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO), the doses were lost due to their short shelf life—about four-to-six weeks—and Nigeria’s lack of adequate storage facilities.
Vaccine storage or wastage, however, is a global problem. And as the world struggles to understand the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus—sequestering Africa in the process—it’s becoming increasingly evident just how unvaccinated African countries are, and the factors contributing to the low numbers.
As of October, only 7.5% of the continent’s population has been fully vaccinated against COVID—a sad figure compared to the EU’s 62% and US’s 55%. While the largest barrier to vaccination in Africa is the purchasing power of most countries, another is the lack of storage and delivery infrastructure
Over the course of the year, countries like Malawi, Congo, and South Sudan destroyed thousands of COVID vaccine doses because they couldn’t store them properly or deliver them before their expiry dates. Across Europe, some countries, including Germany and Switzerland have also struggled with administering the vaccine before their expiry dates, with France reportedly destroying 25% of the AstraZeneca and 20% of the Moderna vaccines in April.
Vaccines are temperature-sensitive and must be kept below certain levels in order to maximise their shelf life. Every year, WHO estimates that 50% of vaccines worldwide are wasted because of inefficient cold storage and cold chain management, and in Africa, the percentage could be higher since about 60% of the population live in rural areas with limited infrastructure.
There are, however, companies that use tech to aid the storage process and Gricd is one. Gricd is a cold chain technology company that provides IoT solutions to enable last-mile delivery of temperature-sensitive products such as vaccines, insulin, and food. Gricd helps reduce this number through a number of ways including automated real-time monitoring of temperature and data logging during storage, transit and distribution of temperature-sensitive products. The company does this using MOTE, a data logger that transmits information about location, humidity, and temperature in real-time.
The MOTE comes with a built-in GSM antenna to track its location and can last up to 30 days on a single charge. It can be monitored and controlled from anywhere in the world with a mobile phone. Alerts can also be sent via SMS, email, or push notification to relevant parties to inform them and advise on the best next step if the tracked product deviates from their intended route or exceeds the preset temperature range.
With Gricd’s MOTE, Nigeria’s NPHCDA tracked its latest batch of dosages—about 4.2 million doses of Moderna donated by USAID through the COVAX scheme—across all its 36 states and the FCT. NPHCDA also had access to Gricd’s enterprise monitoring dashboard which enabled it to track all the devices in one place, ensuring the vaccines arrived where and as they were intended.
The vaccines required storage conditions between -15 degrees and -25 degrees and the NPHCDA, using MOTE, was able to monitor the temperature levels. All vaccines were safely delivered and no cases of ineffectiveness were recorded, claimed the NPHCDA.
Commenting on the partnership, Oghenetega Iortim, CEO and co-founder of Gricd, said, “With 36 states and a landmass of more than 900,000 square kilometres to cover, the NPHDCA had its work cut out for it to ensure that the vaccines got to each state in the best condition. There is still a lot of work to be done to protect Nigeria from COVID-19, but we are glad to have been able to support the governments’ efforts to ensure that more Nigerians have access to critical vaccines. Many African countries have peculiar challenges that often limit access to vaccines and other life-saving medications, and we need to continue to innovate around these challenges to secure lives and livelihoods.”