A digital innovation piloted in the Philippines has the potential to change children’s immunization
Closing the digital divide by using solutions that can benefit every child
Carla Orozco spent her pandemic days working in her hometown of Albay, her window view being the majestic Mount Mayon. Apart from being home to the most active volcano in the Philippines, Albay is also one of the hardest hit when over 20 typhoons pass through the country each year.
Carla, UNICEF Philippines’ immunization expert, barely had time to celebrate the country emerging from the 2019 polio outbreak when COVID-19 suddenly came. She knew what that meant. The lockdowns, the threat from disasters such as typhoons and volcanic eruptions, and the health authorities’ shift to pandemic response risked a further backslide in children’s immunization. Thankfully, before the pandemic prompted the use of telehealth and other digital technologies, the Department of Health (DOH) and UNICEF in the Philippines successfully piloted an online digital tool for immunization that other countries in the world can use.
RT-VaMA is a digital monitoring tool containing checklists and dashboards that helps governments quickly deploy real-time monitoring during immunization campaigns, enabling quick, responsive, and predictive decision-making. Over 1,500 health workers across all 17 regions of the country were trained in using their phones to capture data even without an Internet connection.
Once the information is processed, data visualizations provided critical information at a glance, including stock availability, reasons for vaccine refusals, and areas that are missing their targets. Decision makers are able to act fast, address supply gaps, and deploy social mobilizers to areas with high rates of refusals. In June 2021, the World Health Organization declared the end of the polio outbreak in the Philippines.
In 2022, two years after having one of the longest lockdowns in the world, the Philippines became the fifth country globally with the most unvaccinated children, a large proportion of them is in BARMM. Despite its robust economic growth and near upper middle-income status, the situation of children in rural areas and urban slums is still comparable to children of poor countries.
Catching up on missed immunization means that health authorities must work doubly hard to reach targets. And to reach targets, the first step is having accurate data. This May 2023, an improved RT-VaMA toolkit is helping the DOH with the nationwide measles, rubella, and polio catch-up targeting 9 million children. This updated version contains readiness assessment forms at the regional, provincial, and health facility levels. The RT-VaMA toolkit will then be made available to all countries around the world.
“Data is critical, and real-time data can be lifesaving. Digital innovations and solutions such as RT-VaMA are key to improving children’s lives across the world,” UNICEF Philippines Deputy Representative Behzad Noubary says.