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Gladys Wambu, filling a syringe from a vial with a VVM temperature-sensitive sticker on it

There was once no way for nurses like Gladys to know: is the vaccine still good?

For Nurse Gladys Wambu the days of guesswork are over

North of the Kenyan capital city of Nairobi, at the Kiambu District Hospital, Nurse Gladys Wambu will see dozens of babies today. Their mothers will bring them from homes many miles away, traveling hours by bus and on foot to wait with other moms in the busy immunization clinic. For many babies, it will be their only chance at vaccines that will protect them against measles, tetanus, diphtheria.

Those vaccines make a long journey: manufactured as far away as Europe, transported by air, then shipped by truck on a long, bumpy ride to remote clinics with only intermittent electricity to keep the vaccine refrigerated and cold.

There was once no way for nurses like Gladys to know: have the vaccines become too warm? Do they still have the power to protect the children who receive them? Or must they be thrown away, however valuable?

In 2006, vaccine vial monitors saved more than 50,000 doses of vaccine after an earthquake in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Gladys doesn’t have to worry about giving children vaccine that won’t protect them—or about wasting precious vaccine just because she suspects it may not be good. Before she gives each shot, she checks a purple dot on the vaccine bottle. The center of the dot turns darker in color if the medicine has been exposed to heat, signaling when the vaccine has become unusable.

Developed half a world away from Kenya by PATH and the TEMPTIME Corporation, these stickers—vaccine vial monitors—save money and lives. UNICEF requires them on every vaccine it delivers around the world. In 2006, vaccine vial monitors saved more than 50,000 doses of vaccine after an earthquake in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, cut the supply of electricity to refrigerators in health clinics across the city. The monitors showed the vaccines were undamaged, despite the heat, and still usable.

For health workers, the vaccine vial monitor means the days of guesswork are over. Nurse Gladys Wambu remembers the days before the sticker was available. Now with every baby she sees, she also sees real and lasting change.

Photo: Wendy Stone.