Africa, the world’s last economic frontier, suffers from the lack of transportation infrastructure within many of the continent’s poorest regions. Beverage companies, however, often have the most sophisticated and far-reaching distribution channels throughout Africa. As it now stands in much of sub-Saharan Africa, consumers have an easier time buying a Coke than purchasing the most basic of medicines. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of children die from diarrhea in Africa each year.
One non-profit, ColaLife, is trying to change this enormous tragedy by working with Coca-Cola and UNICEF. Since 2008, ColaLife has built a massive network of online supporters that pushed Coke to allow its “aidpods” to fit within crates of soft drink bottles. If the delivery of these aidpods, which contain rehydration salts that users can easily mix with water, can scale and tag along on Coca-Cola’s delivery route, progress can be made against that most mournful statistic: one in seven African children will die before their fifth birthday.
The aidpod idea dates back to the late 1980s when Simon Berry worked as a humanitarian aid worker in Zambia. Berry realized that Coca-Cola’s extensive distribution network was the perfect path by which medicines could reach the rural poor. Twenty years later, the Aidpod was born: a wedge-shaped container that is crush-resistant and can fit between Coke bottles’ necks. The innovative container is a genius all-in-one-kit: it includes the salts, measuring cup and a solar-powered sterilization device. Mothers can simply purchase the kits via a cell phone, if necessary.
The challenge was breaking into Coca-Cola’s distribution system because the beverage giant itself only makes the concentrate and manages the brands–the actual bottling and delivery is spread across 300 bottling companies across the world, and then are sold from countless outlets. Therein lie the complications: it is not so simple for Coke to “just do this” as the local bottlers must give the green light to carry forth such a project. In ColaLife’s trial program in Zambia, for example, the partner is SABMiller.
Through the use of a delivery system already in place, ColaLife and other NGOs can succeed in delivering medicines to those who need it most while avoiding corruption and bureaucratic red tape that would otherwise hamper such a project. Now a similar project, “Project Last Mile,” is underway in Tanzania. The result has been the safe delivery of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria medicines to as many as 20 million people since 2012. For the globe’s largest beverage companies, programs like those of ColaLife offer a huge opportunity to build trust in some of the poorest regions–and it is up to them to lean on their distribution channels to allow these life saving medicines and supplies to go from truck to motorcycle, and even mule, if necessary.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and covers sustainable architecture and design for Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.
Image of the Aidpod courtesy ColaLife.