How Can AI And Blockchain Aid Vaccine Distribution In India?
A new wave of COVID-19 has battered an unprepared India. Amidst such a grave situation, it has become imperative to bolster the supply chain in order to accelerate vaccine distribution in India which has a vast population of 139 crores.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we faced a severe change in demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) meant to safeguard the frontline workers from the deadly virus. Both the government and the logistics providers were caught completely off guard as PPE requests grew tremendously. About a year later, the second wave of the pandemic has brought about another logistical challenge of supplying and distributing vaccines as the crisis tightens its grip over the nation. Fortunately, technological solutions seem to have shown promising results to aid us in these challenging times. In fact, in a country as large and diverse as India, an effective immunisation program necessitates the need to leverage cutting-edge technologies. This has to be done while maintaining adequate coordination between all the system stakeholders.
Technology Can Improve Vaccine Distribution in India
Amidst a grave crisis of vaccine supply, it was revealed that a huge number of doses were wasted by some states during the inoculation process. As per the Union Health Ministry, Lakshadweep has recorded 9.76 per cent of vaccine wastage followed by Tamil Nadu with 8.83 per cent of wastage. In fact, as per the data shared by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), India wasted 4.6 million doses of vaccine until last month. This is enough to vaccinate almost half of Bengaluru.
Moreover, India has managed to fully vaccinate only 2.5% of its population at the time of writing. Experts believe that at this rate, vaccinating even 70% of all Indians (the estimated threshold to achieve herd immunity) would take around 8 years while vaccinating the entire population of India may take somewhere around 12 years. This situation shows us just how important it is to make sure that jabs end up safely transmitted to patients – at large scales – with minimal wastage. Amidst this crisis, experts are exploring the application of AI in hopes to speed up the inoculation process.
Time and again, health experts have highlighted the need for integrating technological solutions such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and the Internet of Things (IoT) to expedite the massive task of vaccine administration to a large number of people. In fact, health experts have urged that platforms such as Co-WIN, which are responsible for aiding the inoculation process, should leverage these technologies to track the vaccine administration and wastage in real-time. Experts have also said that in order to achieve an effective immunisation programme, Co-WIN must enable supply chain and inventory management, vaccine tracking during transit and data storage apart from registration for vaccination. However, these objectives can only be achieved by leveraging technologies such as AI and IoT.
For instance, Sanford Health based in South Dakota is using machine learning to identify the groups and individuals at the greatest risk of having severe symptoms and prioritising vaccination for the same. Lori M. Jones, President of the Provider Market of an AI services company, Olive stated, “We’ve got an important mission ahead of us still, and if we can’t expand the capacity of organizations delivering the vaccines to take on more patients faster, then there is a very real risk that this process could take years, not months.”
It is also imperative to maintain the vaccines at specific temperatures. The Covishield vaccine distributed by the Serum Institute of India requires it to be stored and transported at a refrigeration temperature of 2-8 degree Celsius. Sensors can be used to collect and monitor real-time data in order to send alerts as and when there are any temperature fluctuations. The data collected in the process can be stored with the help of platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Additionally, the government should also take steps to track the supply chain information in the hinterlands of the country. Location-based analytics can be used to determine the areas of demand and to provide real-time ETAs for the vaccines being distributed. Health experts and stakeholders also believe that Blockchain technology can facilitate enabling transparency in vaccine distribution.
How Can Blockchain Provide Transparency In Vaccine Distribution?
Blockchain can prove to be a game-changer for the supply chain as it enforces a standardized protocol in the network such that all the stakeholders can get access to the relevant data easily. This data recorded on the ledger is immutable, which in simple words means that that the data cannot be changed easily. This not increases transparency but also drives accountability amongst the stakeholders and prevents counterfeiting.
IBM is leveraging AI, Blockchain, data analytics and security technologies to provide a platform that facilitates a seamless inoculation program. IBM is also collaborating with Moderna to improve vaccine distribution and to maximize visibility by allowing real-time monitoring. The project’s ultimate goal is to help the government, healthcare providers and other stakeholders achieve transparency by enabling quick knowledge sharing.
Michael Mullette, VP, Managing Director North America Commercial Operations of Moderna, stated: “Moderna is committed to working with a coalition of partners to increase education and awareness of the importance of vaccination to help defeat COVID-19. We look forward to working with IBM to apply digital innovations to build connections between organizations, governments, and individuals to instil confidence in COVID-19 vaccines.”
Even beyond supply chain transparency, one of the key challenges is to achieve seamless distribution in the remotest corners of the country. Experts believe that emerging transportation technology such as drone technology can address this challenge.
How Can Drones Aid Vaccine Distribution In India?
One of the crucial challenges for India is to ramp up its immunization coverage to reach out to the remote as well as the under-informed population that is ignorant of the importance of vaccination and consumed by anti-vaccination messages. However, in the hilly regions and the treacherous terrains, the vaccine distribution is primarily on foot or through boats which might take hours and hours to reach the final destination. In fact, even if the conditions are suitable, ensuring the accessibility and availability of the vaccines at all locations at all times is very difficult. Lack of access to proper infrastructure, connectivity and a stable road network are the primary reasons behind this.
In order to counter this issue, experts believe that leveraging emerging transportation such as Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) can prove to be a messiah to cater to the healthcare needs of the country.
In April 2021, in light of the country’s rapidly rising COVID-19 cases, India’s civil aviation ministry allowed the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to investigate the prospects of delivering COVID-19 vaccines via drones. Using drones to deliver vaccines and other medical assistance is not a novel concept. Drones have been thought to be bear many benefits such as the ability to save human labour, resources and time, particularly in remote areas.
The World Economic Forum’s Mobility Platform and India Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution have been aiding the state government of Telangana in adopting drone technology to boost access to medical supplies. Over the next few months, the Medicine from the Sky Project will conduct drone delivery pilots in order to target remote population and rough terrain.
On the whole, drones can reach places where humans can’t, which is extremely useful in adverse times as these. However, we will have to wait and see if the sight of vaccines flying through the air can be a reality any time soon. There are many unanswered questions such as how quickly can we reach a conclusion, what will the logistical preparation entail, when will the government intend to use it, and most importantly how will India adapt to the change? These questions can be answered only with adequate testing. However, it is important to understand that these are times when should go beyond cost and explore the best possibilities for our overburdened healthcare system. This will not only aid us in the present crisis and open the door to endless possibilities of delivering
Vaccinating people across the country poses immense unpredictable obstacles. Addressing the supply chain bottlenecks and expanding production capacity in a sustainable manner will not only help meet current demands but also ensure that the country is much more positioned to cater to any future health care needs.