SEATTLE — Rwanda is taking charge of its own economic destiny by investing in vaccinations for children. After the rollout of Rwanda’s vaccination program for HPV in 2010, the poor African nation has since achieved a 90 percent vaccination rate for 11 vaccines and an additional twelfth HPV vaccine for girls.
As Rwanda’s vaccination program is the first of its kind among African nations, Rwanda silenced international skeptics who believed cultural barriers and lacking medical infrastructure would hinder success. After the first year, Rwanda reached a 93 percent vaccination rate against HPV. That number is even more impressive in context; the U.S. hovers around 35 percent vaccinated with some other developed nations lagging even further behind.
For the Rwandan government, the program is a no-brainer. A recent World Health Organization (WHO) report on the impact of the Global Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) stated that vaccines administered in developing nations since 2001 will save 20 million lives and $350 billion dollars by the year 2020.
These figures are derived from the sums of the 73 nations in which Gavi operates. By vaccinating more than 580 million children, these developing nations are projected to save $350 billion in healthcare-related costs, and the overall economic value is expected to be closer to $820 billion.
Based on the cost of creating, administering and maintaining vaccines, the WHO has estimated that every dollar spent on vaccine programs yields a 16- to 44-dollar return in the long run. Given the age of Rwanda’s program, returns of this magnitude are still in the future.
The Rwandan government is so invested in the next generation that it has doubled down on ways to deliver vaccines to more remote locations. In 2016, the Rwandan government partnered with California-based company Zipline — a company specializing in using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to airdrop medical supplies — to pilot a vaccine delivery system.
Each drone, or zip, as they’re called, can fly upwards of 100 miles round-trip to locations submitted by medical professionals via text. Each package is parachuted down and the zip circles back to the distribution center to ready itself for another drop.
Transporting vaccines in the past required existing roadway infrastructure and transportation. Even then, the going over ground is slow. With Zipline’s drone delivery system, vaccines can arrive in minutes.
Plans to expand the UAV program within Rwanda are in the works. Rwanda has set itself on a path to future success with its investments in the wellbeing of its youngest generation. Even in the face of underfunding and lacking medical infrastructure, Rwanda’s vaccination program still managed to reach nearly all of the country’s children. Given the economic benefit and rapidly advancing distribution technology, perhaps more nations will follow in Rwanda’s footsteps.
– Thomas James Anania