In 2014, while participating in a humanitarian hackathon in Geneva, engineer and physicist Kitty C. Liao read a statistic that shocked her. That year, more than 18 million children around the world were reportedly unvaccinated.
But it wasn’t a matter of supply. Rather, it was a crisis in logistics that was largely to blame.
Due to cold storage delivery issues in many developing countries, children in rural communities are not getting basic vaccinations to protect against preventable diseases such as polio, yellow fever, and measles. In some remote regions, healthcare workers must transport vaccines by boat, motor bike, or on foot — and, sometimes all three. They are often using storage containers that make temperature control difficult, if not impossible. Spoilage can occur when the lids of so-called “cool boxes” are repeatedly opened over extended periods of time, are packed incorrectly, or simply can’t stay cold long enough to reach kids living far from infrastructure.
“One of the biggest issues is human error,” the UK-based Liao says. “We know that a functioning device can still fail when it’s not used properly and this is exactly what happens in the field.”