Innovative VaccMap Project: Enhancing vaccine quality and efficiency in Rwanda

By Esther Muhozi
On 17 February 2024 at 09:04

The University of Birmingham, England, has launched an unprecedented initiative called the VaccMap Project, aiming to test over 30,000 vaccines using cutting-edge technology. This initiative seeks to uncover the key factors leading to vaccine degradation during storage and transportation.

Conducted at the African Center of Excellence for Sustainable Cooling and Cold Chain (ACES), the project collaborates with the National Institute for Health Care, Rwanda Biomedical Center, and Circular and Crown Agents—an institute focused on tackling the impacts of climate change on health. The specialized computer software powering this research was developed with support from Circular and Crown Agents.

VaccMap is designed to monitor vaccine quality in Rwanda, thereby improving vaccine integrity for the Rwandan and broader African populations. The project utilizes the facilities of Rwamagana District Hospital and 16 health centers across the Eastern Province, engaging approximately 40 Ministry of Health staff members. Initiated in December 2023, the study is expected to conclude by March 2024.

Given the critical role of vaccines in preventing infectious diseases, their efficacy heavily depends on proper monitoring during transit and storage, ideally within a temperature range of 2°C to 8°C. However, vaccine wastage is a significant issue, with an estimated 25%-30% of vaccines lost annually.

VaccMap employs technology embedded in small glass vaccine vials to offer real-time data on temperature and cold chain integrity to healthcare workers. This innovative approach ensures end-to-end tracking of vaccines, from production to administration, aiming to minimize waste and enhance vaccine quality.

The project enables medical staff to understand the dynamics of vaccine exposure to extreme temperatures, pinpointing the causes behind potential vaccine degradation. By identifying these factors, VaccMap seeks to improve public healthcare outcomes.

Additionally, the project will evaluate the status and quantity of perishable vaccines, focusing on both utilized and unopened vials. This assessment will help address the loss of potency issues, particularly with opened vials that are not fully used during administration.

Professor Toby Peters of the University of Birmingham highlights the crucial need for infrastructure development to preserve vaccine quality. He notes that a significant number of African children remain unvaccinated each year, leading to millions suffering from preventable diseases.

Under Prof. Peters’ leadership, the project aims to identify and address the degradation challenges of vaccines in Rwanda. The findings will guide strategies to mitigate these challenges, preventing future losses and ensuring the availability of high-quality vaccines for children.

Remarkably, the computer program used in this initiative, initially developed for battery materials in vehicles, was adapted by a team of doctors for vaccine delivery purposes. This adaptation underscores the innovative and impactful use of technology in solving critical healthcare challenges.