Dispatch from the Global Health Supply Chain Summit


“You can’t vaccinate a child with a mobile phone.”

Andrea Coleman, co-founder, Riders for Health

Technology is all the rage in global health programs, from immunization and child survival to reproductive and maternal health, to malaria, HIV and TB programs. mHealth platforms proliferate, eHealth applications and acronyms abound: DHIS, eLMIS, HRIS, MRIS, EMR, MFR…OMG!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a technology champion and a bit of a geek, convinced that technology, applied correctly and judiciously, can have a significant impact on health outcomes. In the realm of supply chain, data visibility through technology is a game changer, helping to eliminate the stock-outs and expiries that are still endemic at service delivery points.

Smart technology applications are featured at this year’s Global Health Supply Chain Summit in Dakar. On Day One of the Summit (Nov. 11), two related sessions competed for attendance: Information Systems and Analytics and Vaccine Supply Chains. The schedule was unfortunate, because a key driver of improved vaccine supply chains is better data visibility and analytics. More broadly, new cold chain technology like solar direct drive and remote temperature monitoring offer enormous potential to ensuring the potency of vaccines, oxytocin, and other temperature-sensitive products at the service delivery point. And mobile technology is helping monitor the cold chain through remote temperature monitoring devices to enable timely redress of equipment failure.

But as Andrea Coleman said in the Riders for Health video presented at the Summit, “You can’t vaccinate a child with a mobile phone.”

We must remember that technology is a tool, an enabler of better health outcomes.

Without people who are skilled at filtering the tsunami of data coming in via mHealth and eHealth applications, assessing data quality, connecting diverse sources, and analyzing results, technology is just a diversion of energy and resources from the real challenge: serving clients, treating patients, and vaccinating children to improve health outcomes. Without a culture that emphasizes quality improvement processes, the people analyzing data will identify problems that occur over and over again but are never addressed. Technology is great, and when combined with people and processes it can truly make an impact.

Andrea’s organization, Riders for Health, is a good case in point. Mobile applications and GPS are very useful enablers of fleet management. The data they provide are crucial for effective distribution planning and route optimization. Data is part of an interrelated system that needs to work together to have impact.