|Leaders of the Medicine Preventive Centre of the MoH, NICVB, NIHE, the Swiss Ambassador, Zuellig Pharma, and province representatives at the eZCooler Kick-off Meeting
Every three months, 38-year-old Ng Phuong has to take a three-hour journey from Moc Chau district in the northern province of Son La to Hanoi to get her son vaccinated. After a typical hour and a half wait, the work is complete and they return home.
“I have to go to Hanoi for fear of low-quality vaccines in Son La, which often faces shortage of vaccines,” said Phuong. “Although the road to Hanoi is now smoother, it is quite far and uncomfortable for my son. But ultimately, I have no choice but to go for safety reasons.”
According to the Son La Centre for Disease Control, it is difficult to ensure vaccinations for children, especially those located in the most remote areas in Vietnam. As shown in a 2018 survey, about 464 out of a total of 3,323 villages across 101 communes do not have access to the Vietnam Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI).
Furthermore, even in areas where vaccination is available, refrigerators and other freezing facilities in the cold chain are spoilt or not maintained well, hence failing to ensure quality of vaccines stored here.
Like Phuong, many mothers in Son La and other provinces in such remote areas are facing the same situation. This has become a problem for the Ministry of Health (MoH) and other relevant agencies. It is believed that a solution to this could potentially involve co-operating with the private sector.
Advantages of the eZCooler that outweigh traditional cold chain storage solutions
Rigorous compliance: By restricting the storage temperature of a product to an allowed threshold, the eZCooler allows pharmaceutical products in transit to be stored at the manufacturer's required temperature and allows for close guidance by medical authorities throughout the entire chain.
Product integrity: All six sides of the eZCooler contain vacuum insulation panels to ensure a stable internal storage temperature, no matter the external environment and without any reliance on external energy sources.
Environmentally friendly: By completely eliminating the use of disposable foam containers and replacing them with the reusable eZCooler, the project will contribute to reducing waste and carbon emissions.
Economically friendly: With regular maintenance, the eZCooler can continue to provide temperature-controlled transportation for vaccines for years.
Custom volumes: The eZCooler is developed in a range of sizes, which is suitable for the volume required by each destination.
Recently, a $600,000 project to support the EPI through the use of the eZCooler was officially launched in partnership between Zuellig Pharma, the National Institute for Control of Vaccines and Biologicals (NICVB), and the National Institute of Hygiene & Epidemiology (NIHE).
The project, to be carried out by 2020, will benefit the six northern provinces of Hai Duong, Bac Ninh, Quang Ninh, Ha Giang, Son La, and Yen Bai, which are all facing challenges to ensure quality of the cold chain for vaccines. As part of the project, Zuellig Pharma will co-operate with the NICVB and the NIHE to provide training to employees of their Medical Prevention Departments, on international standards and goods storage practices for cold chain supply management and usage of the eZCooler. The eZCooler is Zuellig Pharma’s innovative packaging solution, which ensures the integrity of the product quality in the supply chain through the critical last stages of delivery. It has helped increase access to healthcare across Asia, especially in very remote or rural areas.
“With eZCooler, we can minimise the risk of cold chain breakdowns by maintaining stable product temperatures for up to five days, more than double the performance of standard packaging solutions used today,” said John Davison, CEO of Zuellig Pharma. “This technology therefore goes a long way towards eliminating the risk of damage from supply chain delays or changes in the external environment. Moreover, integration with digital temperature monitoring technology also provides further peace of mind to healthcare professionals and patients using these important products.”
With this project, the drug giant shares its expertise and technology with the Vietnamese government in its effort to expand access to vaccines nationwide. It also proves how effective public-private partnerships are in benefiting locals and how investments into digital health and commercial solutions further the goal of making healthcare more accessible.
One of the key challenges facing the healthcare industry in Asia is the handling of vaccines, and other temperature sensitive medicines. According to the World Health Organization, more than half of all vaccines manufactured globally are destroyed during the storage and delivery process, a very serious and complex issue.
Vietnam is not an exception as provinces in remote, mountainous, or island areas are still unable to ensure cold chain quality for vaccines. In these areas, cold chain infrastructure under the EPI funded by the government is being downgraded. Furthermore, employees of the Medical Prevention Departments in these areas are not properly trained in vaccine management and preservation.
Zuellig Pharma owns and operates some of the eZCooler solution in other cities and provinces across the country in an attempt to increase vaccine access.
According to Business Monitor International, Vietnam’s healthcare expenditure was estimated at $16.1 billion in 2017, representing 7.5 per cent of its GDP. The figure will grow at 12.5 per cent a year to $22.7 billion by 2021. Vaccines and cold chain products make up a significant part of this expenditure.
Vietnam has, for decades, made great strides in the implementation of the country’s Expanded Programme on Immunisation, initiated by the Ministry of Health (MoH) in 1981, becoming a bright spot in the Southeast Asian region with regards to nationwide coverage. So far, the programme has benefited millions of women and children, with 95 per cent of children under a year old being vaccinated.
The MoH has now set the goal to improve the proportion of vaccinations in areas that are at high risk of outbreaks, and in locations which are geographically difficult to reach.
Zuellig Pharma has grown to become a $13 billion business with over 13,000 employees serving over 350,000 medical facilities in 13 markets across Asia.
Coming into existence in 1999, Zuellig Pharma Vietnam is one of the largest multinational pharmaceutical service providers in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry. They have also been involved in numerous corporate social responsibility activities, and the group works closely with the MoH to promote the development of the pharmaceutical industry in Vietnam.
For the last 17 years, Zuellig Pharma Vietnam has supported the Nguyen Van Huong scholarship programme, committing to help thousands of young medical students continue their dreams to eventually become medical professionals.
As of 2019, the Nguyen Van Huong scholarship fund has raised over VND8.5 billion ($370,000) and suppored for over 1,600 medical students and nurses in various communes and villages across Vietnam.
“Helping to build the pool of professional medical talent in any market is a key part ensuring patients can access and adhere to treatment. We have realised that there is constant demand for medical professional in Vietnam and we will continue to contribute to the Nguyen Van Huong scholarship programme to help students complete their education and join the medical workforce,” said a representative of Zuellig Pharma.
The eZCooler project is the first or many initiatives that show the healthcare services company’s long-term business commitments to Vietnam, and its strong focus on Asia.
More recently, the company also launched its Zuellig Health Solutions Innovation Centre to develop new services and address some pressing healthcare needs in Asia. Since then, Zuellig Pharma has been focused on creating data, offering disease management solutions, supporting patients with chronic conditions, and helping payors manage healthcare costs.