Digital technology can be a gamechanger in emergency health response

A health worker prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Refinery Community Hall in Guwahati, Assam, India, May 2021. Photo: UNDP India/Biju Boro

At the end of every day, health worker Amrit Kaur uses her smartphone to log in details of vaccines utilized and those in stock for immunization. Her smartphone app helps her manage the vaccine stocks at the Female District Hospital of Haridwar, in the hill state of Uttarakhand. Kaur is one of the 48,366 vaccine and cold chain handlers who was trained by UNDP as part of the Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network, or the eVIN — a digital technology introduced by the government of India to digitize vaccine stocks and monitor temperature of the cold chain.

“I have been working as the cold chain handler here for the past four years; I can say that my work and the way I work has completely transformed. We were not able to keep error free record of vaccines earlier. We were not able to keep a track of vaccine supplies and their temperatures in storage but now I can view and manage it all easily on my smartphone,” she says.

Amrit Kaur is one of the 48,366 vaccine and cold chain handlers who was trained by UNDP as part of the Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network. Photo: UNDP India

The Government of India launched one of the world’s largest vaccine drive on January 16, prioritizing 30 million healthcare and frontline workers and gradually including all citizens via a phased programme — a Herculean task of developing and managing a digital platform for a population of 1.3 billion.To assist, UNDP in India embarked on a mammoth task of training personnel on using the Co-WIN software (Winning over COVID) for individualized tracking of COVID-19 vaccination — especially for those who are not usually trained in routine immunization programmes.

Medical workers inoculate with people with COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination centre in Refinery Community Hall in Guwahati, Assam, May 7, 2021. Photos: UNDP India/Biju Boro

The challenge for UNDP in the short term was, to not only train people to keep track of the precious doses of vaccine, manage registration, schedules, and individual vaccination details but also coordinate with various government departments, align with digital utility platforms for unique identity, and create a database of all hospitals and health workers.

People stand in a queue for a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Noonmati School in Guwahati, Assam, May 2021. Photo: UNDP India/Biju Boro

“(The) CoWIN portal looks easy, but it was difficult in the early days to understand and enter data into it. Only after prompt training from the project team at UNDP, we could make sense of the data we were extracting from it. Once we had proper trainings and clearing of doubts, it was easy to monitor the work of vaccinators and block level staff too,” says Poonam Sethi, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, District Jammu, Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, India.

Poonam Sethi, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, District Jammu, Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, India. Photo: UNDP India

UNDP’s helped set-up a well-functioning, well-oiled system of trained human resources in every state and union territory of India. UNDP India also assisted in putting together the operational guidelines, identification, and resolving issues on the ground and coordinating with stakeholders to ensure adoption and adherence.

As a result of UNDP’s support, so far, more than 818,000 state and district level workers have been trained, including over 1900 personnel in the private sector.

“CoWIN is a citizen centric platform. Our aim is to make the process of vaccination simple and easy for all. We appreciate UNDP for their support for smooth roll-out of CoWIN across all 36 states and Union Territories. UNDP teams at the national and state levels have been providing constant support to the Government of India and states in implementation of the digital platform including capacity building of healthcare staff, planning, coordination and setting up of help desk mechanism,” says Mr. Vikas Sheel, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India.

The CoWIN call centre. UNDP has set up and is successfully running a 24/7 helpline to resolve technical queries on CoWIN from all end users,” says Shoko Noda, UNDP Resident Representative in India. Photo: UNDP India

“Upon the government’s request, we have been able to train about one million health workers, police, teachers, security guards, as well as government officers deployed to support around 172,000 vaccination centres to support the COVID-19 vaccination drive. This was only possible because of our large presence on the ground. In addition, UNDP has set up and is successfully running a 24/7 helpline to resolve technical queries on CoWIN from all end users,” says Shoko Noda, UNDP Resident Representative in India.

A health worker stores vaccines in cold storage. Photo: UNDP India/Sri Kolari
EVIN and government officials work on the EVIN website at a government-run State Vaccine Store in New Delhi, May 2021. Photo: UNICEF/UN0458569/Singh

UNDP teams are working in tandem with the state and district administrations providing support for the vaccination drive, from data collection, planning, management of supply chain, IT support for implementation of immunization activities for uninterrupted vaccination.

UNDP in India is working with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and State governments, to ensure uninterrupted oxygen supplies especially in the remote areas.

Oxygen tanks at a plant in NE India. Photo: UNDP India

As hopes are pinned on the largest vaccination campaign to extract the world from its current crisis, several factors will contribute to its success, including digital systems, well-functioning health systems, effective communication, vaccine demand and supply dynamics and community acceptance.

A health worker registers names of beneficiaries in CoWIN for doses of COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Moirabari Rural Hospital Jagiroad in Morigaon district, Assam, May 2021. Photo: UNDP/Biju Boro

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