In rural Kenya, many workers at local health clinics are afraid to go home at night. They fear not for their safety, but for the safety of their vaccines.
The problem is that electricity in these areas is often unreliable, and clinics lose power on a routine basis. Once the power goes out, clinic refrigerators stop working and refrigerated vaccines and other medications start to go bad. Such breakdowns often happen at night or over the weekend without warning, leaving the vaccines inside to spoil and become ineffective. Sometimes fridges malfunction and freeze the vaccines, destroying them.
Some clinics have gas-powered fridges or back-up generators, but fridges have to be manually switched over, and even these devices can develop mechanical failures or simply run out of gas.
As a result, clinic workers feel they have to keep constant watch over their medications. For them, it is worth it because vaccines are one of the most effective medical interventions created, saving millions of children each year. They dramatically reduce childhood mortality and increase the quality of life for children and their families.
Clinics want to make sure there are sufficient vaccines to treat their patients. In fact, every year 25 million children – that’s 1 in 5 children born – do not receive these life-saving vaccinations. Often because the vaccines spoil or are wasted.
One low-cost and direct way of preventing vaccine waste is to give clinic workers in developing countries tools to ensure that vaccines are maintained at proper temperatures.
We are working with Medic Mobile and Direct Relief to build invaluable collaborations with in-country Ministries of Health, and distribute ColdTrace devices to clinics in Kenya and Haiti. We are also working with University of Washington to pilot Bluetooth devices to extend the reach of cold chain coverage.
WHAT IS COLDTRACE?
ColdTrace is a new, low-cost temperature sensor that wirelessly connects with other ColdTrace units to create a global sensor network designed to keep vaccines safe on their journey to rural clinics in developing countries.
ColdTrace uses a cellphone to keep track of the temperature inside refrigerators where vaccines are stored and sends a text message alert to clinic managers when the temperatures are reaching dangerous limits.
The alert gives the managers a chance to either fix the refrigerator or move the vaccines to a safer location.
ColdTrace data is transmitted by every device in the network to a global database that helps health agencies, hospitals and clinics understand the weaknesses in their vaccine distribution systems and make better decisions that ensure life-saving treatments reach everyone.
After only one month using ColdTrace, all 8 clinics in Kenya that tested the device have said they would like to start paying for units. This sentiment was echoed by the District Minister of Health, who has said he can partially fund a scale up of this device to every clinic in his area. We would like to help him achieve this goal.
WHY IS COLDTRACE NEEDED?
Millions of doses of vaccines are donated to developing countries annually by pharmaceutical companies, philanthropic aid organizations, and donor nations.
Many of them never reach the children that need them most. In too many instances, vaccines have to be discarded because they are not stored at the correct temperature. A little too hot, or a little too cold, and the vaccine has to be thrown away.
Over 2.4 million children die each year as a result of vaccine-preventable diseases.
We believe that ColdTrace can be part of a solution to this problem by providing an affordable and easy-to-use way of ensuring that vaccines are kept at safe temperatures.
HOW DO VACCINES GO BAD?
There are two main problems in current vaccine distribution systems in developing countries.
1. Unreliable Infrastructure: In most developing countries, the infrastructure used to transport and store vaccines is old, electricity is unreliable, and backup power can be erratic.
Fridge failures are common, they are loosely monitored, and they often go unreported.
2. It’s Difficult to Identify Failures: Without monitoring, weaknesses in the distribution system are difficult to identify and fix in a systematic way.
As a result, vaccine wastage remains a persistent, unresolved problem.
WHAT ARE THE CURRENT SOLUTIONS?
Currently, monitoring of vaccines relies on clinic workers looking at basic thermometer readings and recording them with pen and paper.
Because it is so labor intensive, this monitoring only happens at one point in the distribution chain, if at all. This leaves many other points of potential failure without monitoring.
Also, pen and paper systems are prone to human error, and because they are not kept in electronic form, they are not easy to share with administrators or health agencies that could provide better management and oversight.
There are commercial temperature monitors available. But they are either too expensive for widespread use in developing nations or they lack useful features such as wireless upload of data.
WHY IS COLDTRACE BETTER THAN THE ALTERNATIVES?
The ColdTrace project aims to construct a temperature sensor that costs less than $50 and that can provide real-time information on every step of the distribution chain, which can dramatically boost the effectiveness of vaccine distribution around the world.
ColdTrace aims to provide:
- Real-time remote monitoring of vaccines.
- SMS alerts about vaccines reaching critical temperatures.
- Wireless upload and storage of data.
- Correlation of temperature data and the location of the phone.
- An easy-to-use interface.
- Web-accessible data visualizations.
- A low-cost alternative to commercial systems.
- A globally available database of temperature data.
HOW DOES COLDTRACE WORK?
ColdTrace uses existing cellphone technologies in a new way to dramatically reduce the cost of wireless sensor data collection. Unlike similar approaches, which employ microcontrollers or other costly components, ColdTrace takes advantage of the sophisticated electronics, battery and other features that already exist on the cellphone.
By building upon this standard technology, we can dramatically reduce the overall cost of the sensors and make it possible for almost any basic phone to serve as a wireless sensor.
This allows ColdTrace to bring remote monitoring to developing areas that have extremely low resources.
WHERE HAS COLDTRACE BEEN TESTED?
We have deployed ColdTrace prototypes in 8 clinics around Kilifi, Kenya, and in 8 facilities in Haiti. These clinics serve the rural poor and often face extreme shortages of vital resources.
WHAT HAS COLDTRACE ACCOMPLISHED SO FAR?
ColdTrace has already saved thousands of vaccines in Kenya during an early field test.
This occurred during a weekend when no clinic workers were present to check on the cold storage unit. Upon receiving a ColdTrace alert about rising refrigerator temperatures, the clinic manager immediately came in and was able to fix the problem. An alert received the very next day led to a more extensive analysis of the refrigerator and the discovery of a much larger problem. The clinic manager credited ColdTrace with saving the entire lot of vaccines stored in her fridge.
As a result of this success, the clinics and the District Ministry of Health in Kilifi have committed funds and resources to continue using and scaling up ColdTrace.
WHAT IMPACT WILL MY CONTRIBUTION HAVE?
Our goal is to build ColdTrace into a system that is an integral part of delivering life-saving vaccines to the 25 million children who do not receive them each year.
Your contribution will directly support up to 50 clinics in Kenya, and another 10 clinics in Ethiopia that want to receive the ColdTrace device. These clinics will begin contributing data to the ColdTrace global database, and they will help us continue testing and refining the ColdTrace device for large-scale distribution.
Your contribution will help fund:
- Adapting our existing prototype device to be able to run on Kenyan cellphones that cost as little as $25 and to reduce its size and increase its portability.
- Deploying 50 ColdTrace units in Kenyan clinics, in cooperation with the District Ministry of Health, for testing and troubleshooting.
- Deploying 10 ColdTrace units in Ethiopian clinics.
Your contribution will help make ColdTrace an important part of an integrated, broadly available, data-driven process for managing vaccine distribution in low-resource areas. As a result, your contribution will help us move toward providing more vaccines and safer medical treatments to millions of children around the world.
We are so grateful for the opportunity to be working with local clinics, District Ministries of Health, NGOs, and organizations like the Pan American Health Organization (a regional office of the World Health Organization). Your contribution will help move this project forward and will directly impact the health of many people on the ground.
Nithya Ramanathan, President of Nexleaf Analytics
Martin Lukac, Chief Technology Officer of Nexleaf Analytics
For the last 10 years, we have been using cellphones to build wireless sensors that address difficult public health and environmental problems.
We love taking low-cost technologies and adapting them to provide robust, affordable solutions to pressing real-world dilemmas.
We have developed technologies to better understand arsenic in the groundwater in Bangladesh, to monitor endangered sea birds in the Pacific Ocean, to measure earthquakes in California, and to mitigate climate change through the introduction of clean cookstoves in India.
Just as cellphones have changed the lives of billions of people around the world, we think that cellphones can change the way we confront global health and environmental challenges.
We are excited to have you help us create that change!
Nithya also currently serves as an Assistant Research Professor at UCLA, where she was awarded one of the highly competitive $1M Challenge Grants from the National Institutes of Health to develop mobile platforms to improve the cardiovascular health of women. She received her Ph.D. in Computer Science from UCLA and holds a B.S. degree from University of California at Berkeley in Electrical Engineering. She is a PopTech Fellow, a Rainer Arnhold Fellow and a Switzer Environmental Fellow. Nithya lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two energetic children.
Martin holds a B.S. from Haverford College, and he received his Ph.D. from UCLA for innovations in wireless seismic and acoustic sensing systems. His research experience includes building, deploying, maintaining, and evaluating embedded systems for seismic, structural, environmental, and public-health applications. Martin spends his free time modding his household appliances and trying not to crash his quadcopter.
Medic Mobile: http://medicmobile.org/
Direct Relief: http://directrelief.org/
We have had the privilege of working with the teriffic teams from Medic Mobile in Kenya and Direct Relief in Haiti. Both organizations have been key collaborators in the ColdTrace project and will continue to work with Nexleaf as we scale up the production and distribution of devices.