Innovation for Strengthening Vaccination Systems

The UNICEF Innovation Fund joins The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations Initiative to seek solutions for better collection and use of data

Ibrahim Mahgoub
Anirwoth Winnie, 17 years, holds her 7 months baby named Delight. She delivered from the Health Centre, and is visiting to immunize the baby at Health centre III in Nyaravur, Nebbi district, West Nile - Uganda.
29 April 2019

Vaccines save millions of lives each year and are among the most cost-effective health interventions ever developed. Immunization has led to the eradication of smallpox, a 74 percent reduction in childhood deaths from measles over the past decade, and the near-eradication of polio.

Despite these great strides, there remains an urgent need to reach all children with life-saving vaccines. One in five children worldwide is not fully protected with even the most basic vaccines. As a result, an estimated 1.5 million children die each year — one every 20 seconds — from vaccine-preventable diseases such as diarrhea and pneumonia. Tens of thousands of other children suffer from severe or permanently disabling illnesses.

To encourage even greater reach during World Immunization Week 2019, UNICEF launched a  #VaccinesWork global campaign to spread the message that together communities, including parents, can protect everyone through vaccines.  The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) will donate $1USD to UNICEF’s immunization work for every post, like or share of posts using the hashtag #VaccinesWork, up to $1 million USD.


UNICEF's #VaccinesWork global campaign images for World Immunization Week 2019
UNICEF's #VaccinesWork global campaign images for World Immunization Week 2019
UNICEF's #VaccinesWork global campaign images for World Immunization Week 2019
UNICEF's #VaccinesWork global campaign images for World Immunization Week 2019

Alongside this global campaign spearheaded by the World Health Organizaiton, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UNICEF are drawing attention to the shared responsibility for vaccination -- boosting #VaccinesWork engagement, and championing innovative ideas and approaches that position vaccines as a shield to protect children, families, and communities.

Another way the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UNICEF are joining forces is by accelerating Innovation for strengthening Vaccination Systems -- starting with better collection and use of critical data. UNICEF’s Innovation Fund will support eight grant recipients of the Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations Round 22 with its cutting edge piloting and scaling methodologies and tools.

High-quality and timely immunization data are vital to inform decisions at local, national, and global levels. This includes decisions about how to better reach children, successfully introduce new vaccines, document impact, monitor and improve immunization system program performance, prioritize resources and activities, and engage in performance improvement. The Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations initiative sourced innovative ideas from around the world to improve 1) measurement approaches by program managers, and 2) service delivery and experience of caregivers and community health workers.

A baby is being vaccinated and weighed at the health center of Brazzaville, the capital of Congo.
UNICEF/UN0283266/Frank Dejongh
A baby is being vaccinated and weighed at the health center of Brazzaville, the capital of Congo.

The UNICEF Innovation Fund will accelerate the eight projects by linking them with experts in data science, open source innovation, and the UNICEF immunization team, who will guide the winners during piloting and testing as subject matter experts and potential users. UNICEF’s Innovation Fund will also help these companies map out and tackle growth opportunities and partnerships with the key actors in Immunization.

“The Grand Challenges Explorations mechanism has been a tremendous engine for identifying and testing innovative ideas. As we look to new approaches to improve immunization coverage and equity, we wanted to see whether additional sprint support from UNICEF could improve the likelihood that our GCE innovations can successfully go to scale.”

David Sarley, Senior Program Officer, Gates Foundation’s Vaccine Delivery Innovation Team

A Snapshot of the BMGF Grand Challenge Companies that UNICEF’s Innovation Fund is supporting 

8 champion teams of various backgrounds, languages and timezones taking on the challenge of reducing vaccine-preventable deaths through better collection and use of data.


What It Is 

Pilot Country(ies)  

What They’re Doing 


A regional data platform to improve immunization coverage 

The Asia Pacific Region 



Platform that accesses various data platforms to bring together and visualize vaccine data at subnational and national levels -- which would give program managers and governments a more effective way of triangulating and using data for better decision making. 

True Cover 

True Cover: Localized, accurate immunization coverage 


Machine Learning (ML) applied to satellite imagery to determine population density and numbers more accurately (to serve as baseline for vaccination coverage numbers) -- which is expected to reduce the 1.5 million vaccine-preventable-deaths. 

Har Zindagi 

Identifying inaccuracies in immunization e-records 


Using ML to detect inaccuracies in vaccination coverage reports (by using 45M data points collected) -- which would significantly improve the cost-effectiveness of campaign vaccination programs. 


Optical Scanning of the Mother and Child Vaccination Card 


Scanning of analogue vaccination cards to create digital records -- which will facilitate faster, cheaper and better collection of data.  


Human-in-the-loop machine learning and immunization data 


Human in the loop machine learning to derive data and context directly from frontline health workers.  This data enables predictive scale to low infrastructure countries and real-time visibility.

Finding Nemo 

Crowdsourcing Vital Records to Improve Subnational Data 


Using phones to crowdsource birth reporting data in Northern Nigeria and looking at incentive scheme for mothers to report --  which could increase the reliability of crowdsourced data. 

Uganda Vacc+ 

Uganda Vacc+ : User centered data collection and use 


OpenSRP + RapidPro for health workers, with focus on creating incentives for reporting and data collection for community health workers -- which would facilitate faster and cheaper data collection. 


Platform to triangulate multiple data  sources and generate interactive reports 


System to track data and improve visualization and data for decision making at the district level by bringing together inputs from various existing data systems -- which could facilitate faster and more accurate decision making. 

What’s Next

These eight teams will work with UNICEF’s Immunization experts, as well as business and technology mentors to test, iterate and validate their prototypes and scalability strategies during 2019 to be ready for implementation at scale during 2020, the last year of the Global Vaccine Action Plan.

We’re also exploring new approaches to strengthening vaccination systems through the UNICEF Innovation Fund’s first blockchain investments -- where one of the six companies selected is working to improve vaccine distribution systems through blockchain. StaTwig’s blockchain cloud platform delivers visibility, monitoring and tracking of products in supply chains -- leading to better accountability and trust in these systems. Read more about how this technology is improving health care delivery here.


To learn more about these solutions and how you can use them to support your immunization efforts + programmes -- please get in touch!


Ibrahim Mahgoub, Technical Support Adviser, UNICEF Ventures