ORS and zinc: overcoming hurdles to access in Zambia

Sep 12, 2012


Lisa Anderson
Program Assistant for Vaccine Development at PATH


Social entrepreneurs with boundless creativity are redefining the outer limits of what's possible in global health. Two such visionaries, Simon and Jane Berry, have harnessed their mental oomph and creative prowess in the public health community in Zambia to address one major global health dilemma: access. They tasked themselves with the following: identify an existing distribution channel whose reach is vast, design an innovative commodity that is culturally relevant with user-friendly messaging, and enroll champions along the supply chain instrumental to product delivery in target communities.


Who has the farthest reaching arm to even the most remote villages in Zambia and in much of the world? Coca-Cola. A willing partner, but not extensively involved in the project, Coca-Cola agreed to let ColaLife, Simon and Jane's organization, piggy back on their existing end-to-end supply chain to deliver life-saving public health treatments:  oral rehydration solution (ORS) and zinc.

Packaged in a tidy reusable plastic cup with pictorial, culturally appropriate instructions and hygiene messaging, along with a bar of soap to boot, the AidPod is a wedge-shaped container that fits between glass Coca-Cola bottles inside of a plastic Coca-Cola crate. One AidPod contains 8 200ml packets of ORS and 10 tablets of zinc. Local testing determined the kits should be locally labeled Kit Yamoyo (Kit of Life) anti-diarrhea kit.

ColaLife enrolls and motivates champion distributers to ensure the product reaches the market at the far and remote end of the supply chain. Each kit is labeled with a number, which is tracked via cell phone to monitor and create real-time sales and distribution data. Health promoters, such as community health workers, can also receive feedback regarding uptake in any given community.

“I was reading in the paper, and there, page 3, lower corner, '1 in 5 kids will die before their 5th birthday' and I thought, can that really be, 1 in 5?” Simon reflected. “When someone said they are going to put a brown fizzy water [Coca-Cola] in a glass bottle in a plastic crate and send it to the outer reaches of the earth, I'd have said no way is it possible. This, what we are attempting to do, should be a no brainer.”

 Access to basic solutions to prevent deadly diarrhea, such as zinc and ORS, remains elusive to many households in peri-urban and remote rural communities. Misunderstanding and misuse of products that do exist in the market complicates the situation. Simon and Jane are reducing child mortality due to dehydration and diarrhea among the most isolated and underserved communities by creating access to a user-friendly, culturally relevant, and affordable public-health intervention.

We salute you, Simon and Jane, two champion social entrepreneurs who don't waste time, who create novel public health approaches, and who, with their hearts of gold, enroll public & private sector partners to deliver desperately needed solutions to isolated communities, where the impact will be great.


-- Lisa Anderson is a Program Assistant for Vaccine Development at PATH


For more information:

See other blogs inspired by defeatDD's trip to Zambia:

-- Soccer goals and other victories: Ministry of Health official Vichael Salavwe recalls a moment that inspired his career path.

-- Defeating a leading child killer in Zambia: The country prepares for a national rotavirus vaccine rollout.

-- Finally, firsthand: After 10 years in development work, Deborah Phillips visits an African clinic for the first time.

-- On balance and empathy: It really is a small world after all.

-- Diving into Zambia's water challenges: Not literally!


Photo credit: PATH/Gareth Bentley