By James Blackman
Vodafone has said it is to supply infrastructure and solutions, using cellular and IoT tracking and monitoring technologies, to support Covid-19 vaccine roll-out in Africa. Vodacom, the company’s operating company in Africa, is working with the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) on a ‘home-grown’ solution to manage vaccination appointments and stock availability in 55 countries in Africa.
The “digital toolbox” solution, which goes by the name mVacciNation, was developed by Mezzanine, one of Vodafone’s IoT ‘solution houses’ in Africa. The new-fangled IoT element is somewhat unclear, from a Vodafone press statement and blog post, but it claims to offer a cloud-based facility for countries to integrate “almost any cold-chain IoT sensor” to track and monitor the integrity vaccines in storage and distribution.
Vodafone Foundation and Vodacom Group have donated €5 million to communities in Africa to purchase vaccine doses and buy cold-chain technology to keep vaccines and medicines “safe and effective”. The cloud platform also integrates with sundry drug safety (‘pharmacovigilance’) and vaccination travel passport platforms, said Vodafone.
But the main component looks more like a traditional mobile application linked to a centralised inventory management software. It works as a “logistics platform and a last-mile supply-chain management system”, said Vodafone, providing “real-time visibility” for health workers of available vaccines and medical equipment in each member state in the African Union.
A “control tower” allows for the orchestration of stock to specific vaccination centres, said Vodafone. It is unclear what a ‘control tower’ is, and how it is part of the scheduled “digital infrastructure” rollout – whether a traditional cellular mast, a cellular-IoT upgrade, a non-cellular wireless range extender, or a cloud-based dashboard, or something else or some combination of various of these.
A statement explained: “The platform is linked to a stock-control centre, allowing individuals to register… so they can be assigned to vaccine service points on specific days. When vaccinated, their digital records are updated and follow-up appointments are automatically scheduled (via SMS) in case a second dose is required. An electronic certification that can be linked to national vaccination passport platforms is [also] generated.
The roll-out of mVacciNation is the first project in a public-private partnership between Vodacom and AUDA-NEPAD to boost Africa’s digital transformation and build resilience for the post-COVID world. The National Department of Health in South Africa has already used mVacciNation to register health workers on its Covid-19 Electronic Vaccine Data System (EVDS), and to record the administration of 279,000 vaccinations so far.
The platform has also been deployed in Mozambique, Tanzania, and Nigeria to manage infant inoculations. Vodafone said it will remain in place to help countries manage future pandemics and other large-scale health programmes. AUDA-NEPAD, with a continental mandate, will facilitate government engagement to link mVacciNation to policy and practice for accelerated roll-out across Africa.
Chief executive at AUDA-NEPAD, Ibrahim Mayaki said: “The response to the Covid-19 crisis has significantly accelerated the adoption of frontier technologies. Africa’s booming digital sector offers great opportunities for public-private partnerships to help build resilience in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis and respond to critical continental priorities. As the development agency for the African Union, we act as a channel to connect innovators and governments to roll-out and localise these solutions.”
Chief executive of Vodafone Business, Vinod Kumar said: “If this crisis has taught us anything, it is that we are all interconnected, perhaps more than we ever realised. And that inclusive progress can only be achieved by joining forces, so we can build resilience for the post-Covid world…. mVacciNation proves the impact digitalisation can have on people and communities, even in resource-constrained settings. That’s why it’s crucial to continue offering digital tools and connectivity to build the resilient, inclusive and sustainable economies of the future.”
Chief executive at Vodacom Group, Shameel Joosub said: “Making our mVacciNation platform available to all African countries will significantly enhance the continent’s digital health infrastructure for the long-term. Our contribution will improve the capability of African countries in this pandemic and beyond for vaccine distribution, management and surveillance, even in resource-constrained settings.”