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Vaccines Get a Booster from Real-Time Sensor and Texting Technology

Words by Leon Kaye

Misinformation from the likes of Donald Trump and B-lister celebs has not helped their cause, but the stubborn fact is that vaccines have made a huge difference in public health for generations. Aggressive vaccination campaigns led to the eradication of smallpox over 30 years ago and has relegated the once-feared polio to only three countries worldwide. In recent years, community-based vaccination strategies have found success in countries such as Ethiopia, with the result that far more children have been vaccinated and child mortality rates have seen a rapid fall over the past decade.

Nevertheless, the Gates Foundation estimates that 1 in 5 children worldwide still lack access to the most basic vaccines. The result is that an as many as 1.5 million children annually die from diseases, such as pneumonia, which are otherwise easily preventable. Part of the problem is logistics and storage. Refrigeration often becomes a huge problem when vaccines make their way to more remote regions of the world. One Los Angeles-based social enterprise, however, is trying to improve those statistics through the use of technology.

Founded in 2009, Nexleaf Analytics is the brainchild of two UCLA alums who believe cell phone networks and sensors can be paired in order to generate social good. Amongst  projects that seek improvements in potable water, cookstoves and wildlife conservation, Nexleaf’s engineers have leveraged sensors to enable real-time monitoring of vaccine refrigeration to ensure that they remain viable and safe until the exact moment of inoculation.

Part of the firm’s solution is through hardware. Nexleaf has developed a cold chain monitor that tracks the temperature of cold boxes and refrigerators that store vaccines. The monitor’s sensor uses mobile phones to collect and send temperature data from the moment the vaccines depart a warehouse, and then through the various stages of delivery, until they are ready for use. When a shipment of vaccines approaches a temperature that could threaten its safety, the system sends an SMS and email alert. Nexleaf also stores all temperature and location information in order to help improve forecasting, future deliveries and capacity planning.

Hence the development of ColdTrace, which government agencies, NGOs, hospitals and vaccine providers can adopt to improve the deployment of vaccines. The system includes dashboards and reporting capabilities that allow users to monitor a bevy of data points, including historic grid power capacity and temperatures that can be analyzed in order to streamline the delivery of vaccines and medicines.

So far, Nexleaf’s technology has been installed at sites throughout Mozambique, Kenya, Indonesia, Philippines and Laos. This year the company is ramping up its presence in India and Kenya with Tanzania added to the list. With a recently awarded grant from Google, Nexleaf is positioned to expand its reach in even more places, allowing these commonplace technologies to avert an early death, or a lifetime of suffering, for even more people worldwide.

Image credit: Nexleaf Analytics

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

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