IOT In Healthcare: Improving Care For Those Out Of Reach

Case Study: Vaccine Wastage Sentinel Monitoring System

The Internet of Things is likely to have more impact in healthcare than in any other sector. According to industry forecasts, around 40 per cent of the global economic impact of IoT applications will occur in healthcare. The availability of smartphone-based health apps (referred to as “mHealth”) is already growing rapidly in every part of the world, suggesting that there is a strong demand for IoT health applications once the technology is readily available. The range of possible IoT applications in healthcare is broad, from vaccine-monitors to so-called “wearables” – such as smart bandages, wristbands and even t-shirts that allow remote monitoring of bodily functions and wellbeing.

Remote Monitoring Improves Treatment

Nearly three quarters of all deaths due to chronic diseases such as cancer, chronic respiratory diseases like asthma, and diabetes occur in low- and middle-income countries. And more than 95 per cent of HIV infections occur in developing countries, two-thirds of them in sub-Saharan Africa, where over 28 million people are currently living with HIV. These chronic diseases require uninterrupted care, which is frequently unavailable in poor countries, and particularly in rural areas. Remote diagnosis and customised treatment thanks to wearable body-sensors (“wearables”) and other remote technologies can help not only to expand coverage but also to improve treatment itself. Pilot projects in countries such as India (Khushi-Baby), Philippines (Medifi) and Malawi (Supporting Life Project) are using sensors that read a patient’s vital signs at home and transmit the data to doctors. The information gathered and analysed through hand-held devices like smartphones allows health providers to make more informed decisions. This richer source of data also puts doctors in a far better position to detect emerging problems to allow swifter intervention before the patient’s condition deteriorates, possibly avoiding costly hospitalisation. Moreover, IoT enables patients to take an active role in managing their own health.

Sensors Secure Medicines

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 100,000 deaths a year in Africa are linked to the counterfeit drug trade, and international policing agency Interpol says that, counterfeit drugs cause more than one million deaths worldwide each year. Sensors on packages and bottles could let consumers ensure that their medications are legitimate. Furthermore, IoT technology can be used to ensure that medical supplies are stored and transported correctly, to avoid wastage or administering ineffective treatments, as the next example illustrates.

Vaccine Wastage Sentinel Monitoring System

Vaccine Wastage Sentinel Monitoring System

The regular supply of vaccines and their efficient management is crucial to the success of immunisation programmes. But in many developing countries, access to vaccines is limited, and levels of wastage are high. Thus an effective and efficient management system to monitor vaccine use in immunisation programmes is important. The Vaccine Wastage Sentinel Monitoring System, which was piloted starting in February 2014 in two regions in Ghana, addresses this need by monitoring vaccines with sensors. “In Ghana, around 30 per cent of vaccines are lost due to mismanagement or destroyed by cold-chain interruption,” says Dr. Kwame Amponsa from Ghana Health Service.

Dr. Amponsa and his team aim to address this problem through the use of digital Vaccine Vial Monitors that communicate whether the vaccine is still intact or if the cold-chain has been interrupted during transport. Using an Android-based tracking system, health workers document when and where the vaccine deliveries arrive, and how many have been destroyed or lost. An online platform documents distribution and wastage in real time. In this way the use of IoT technology helps to increase the efficiency (see page 19) of the vaccination programme. UNICEF is currently piloting a similar programme in Laos.

Country: Ghana
Technology: Vaccine sensors + smartphone app + online platform
Partners: Ghana Health Services, “Expanded Programme on Immunization” (EPI) by WHO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Grand Challenges Fund)


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