Feb 28, 2014. Health centre staff in Naxathong District, Lao PDR, explain to Dan Toole, Regional Director UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Region, about a new real-time SMS reporting system supported by UNICEF in partnership with GAVI, to monitor vaccines supplies and cold chain. Photo credit: UNICEF Lao PDR
Feb 28, 2014. Health centre staff in Naxathong District, Lao PDR, explain to Dan Toole, Regional Director UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Region, about a new real-time SMS reporting system supported by UNICEF in partnership with GAVI, to monitor vaccines supplies and cold chain. Photo credit: UNICEF Lao PDR

Last week I visited a great set of health site in Laos — from a peri-urban clinic, to the district hospital, to the provincial and national medical stores. What I saw was a new and exciting system to digitally track how we get results to children!. With GAVI’s financial support, UNICEF, PATH, University of Oslo, and the University of Washington partnered to support the Lao Ministry of Health to develop a real-time digital monitoring system to protect vaccines and ensure they get to those who need them.

The digital system monitors the cold chain and logistics at service delivery points along the health care chain. The aim is to generate actionable data that can be easily reported by health providers and accessed by the national, provincial and district level managers. And better still, it’s linked to clear, appropriate responses to the issues identified.

The new system employs a web-based information management system, cold chain monitoring devices (see the photo below), and an SMS-based reporting and response system to monitor, report, compile, and present information on cold chain functioning and vaccine stocks at service delivery points.

Cold chain monitoring devices to protect vaccines. Photo credit: Daniel Toole, UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific Regional Office
Cold chain monitoring devices to protect vaccines. Photo credit: Daniel Toole, UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific Regional Office

In 2014, all provincial immunization stores nationwide will use the system, as well as one district in each province. In 3 trial provinces, all districts and all primary health centers will also be linked. The web-based system will go live in March 2014, and evaluated after a month. It will then be expanded to cover all remaining districts and primary health centers in 2015.

In the field, the new technology is clearly exciting and motivating feature – staff were thrilled to show me what they were doing. More important, technology serves as a catalyst to clarify department and individual functions, responsibilities and accountabilities. It thus helps the Ministry of Health decide how to respond to the real time assessment of the situation on the ground.

The innovation will initially cover immunization and monitor the cold chain and supplies. Once it’s successful, it can be expanded to cover child survival and other health supplies.

By Daniel Toole
Regional Director
UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific Regional Office

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