Dagfinn Høybråten

Oiling the Vaccine Supply Chain: Corporate expertise helps give more kids a shot at a healthy life

It is an inspiring, miraculous sight to see parents line up in the hot sun of a remote African or Asian village to get their infants immunized. Many of them have walked for hours overnight through fields, farms or jungles.

These parents want for their children what you and I want for ours: health and, thereby, an opportunity to attend school. They know that vaccines provide the foundation for this because they have seen so many children die or become disabled because they were not immunized.

But even after such a journey, some babies may not be vaccinated, and the reason is heart-breaking: inadequate stock management – due to non-existent or poor technology – can mean that supplies expire or run out.

Even worse, vaccines can become ineffective because the system used to preserve them at a proper temperature has failed. This means some children could be given a shot of something that does not work – and parents won’t know until the child becomes severely ill.

These “supply chain” and “cold chain” issues are among the most vexing for my organization, the GAVI Alliance. GAVI is a public-private partnership dedicated to providing vaccines to children in the poorest countries. Despite these issues, GAVI has managed to immunize more than 370 million children since 2000, saving 5.5 million lives. And we are on track to immunize an additional quarter billion by 2015.

Even so, about 20 percent of the world’s children go unvaccinated, leading to more than 1.5 million avoidable deaths annually. A substantial number of these are due to inadequate vaccine delivery systems.

We and our country partners urgently want to change these numbers, but the funding and expertise are lacking. To get there, GAVI is launching an initiative to tap the brain power and skills of global corporations that have developed sophisticated supply chains for delivery of their own products.

We know these systems – successfully developed in the pressure-packed atmosphere of global competition – could be transformative if applied to vaccine delivery. Our initiative includes two programs:

  • Establishment of a facility to provide expedited private sector funding to GAVI-supported countries to overcome immediate bottlenecks in the supply chain or cold chain

  • Development of a Supply Chain Centre of Excellence to incubate and scale private sector solutions to the toughest vaccine delivery challenges, such as obsolete cold chain equipment, inadequate transportation networks, deficient computer systems and even bureaucratic import procedures

GAVI is now in talks with several technology, freight and logistics companies about joining the Centre, whose members would work with GAVI partner countries on individual projects.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is playing a role as well. Private sector donations to GAVI for the initiative – both funding and in-kind contributions – will be doubled through the GAVI Matching Fund either by the foundation or by the UK government.

I marvel at human ingenuity and our ability to solve difficult, even life-threatening problems. I have seen villages in the most remote areas of Africa and Asia develop innovative ways to mobilize parents to get their children vaccinated. And I have seen corporate and government leaders develop pioneering solutions to difficult problems.

Imagine if we could marry all of this ingenuity together to ensure that all children get an equal shot at a healthy life. Public-private partnerships, like the supply chain initiative just launched by GAVI, are making this happen for the greater good.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Impatient Optimists and is republished with permission.

Dagfinn Høybråten is the chair of the GAVI Alliance board and secretary general of the Nordic Council of Ministers.

Health Care
public health, public-private partnerships