A New Consensus
Blockchain is a secure, distributed, peer-to-peer platform for recording exchanges of anything of human value, whether cash or credentials or material goods. Rather than relying on a single authority such as a bank, cryptographically secured transactions are approved by consensus among participants in the platform. Blockchain improves trust and transparency in business, and moves us away from storing vital data in what are often insecure, centralized databases that can be hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Over the past decade, new security and analytics technologies have emerged that take advantage of blockchain's unique qualities. As the backbone tying these technologies together, blockchain can enable the world to more efficiently and securely share any conceivable information or asset.
The development world is taking notice. A 2016 whitepaper on blockchain applications for development released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated that blockchain has the potential to transform the humanitarian sector by achieving cost savings, improving product traceability, and reducing transaction times.
And in November 2017, a landmark article in Foreign Affairs set the stage for blockchain's entrance in the global health arena, explaining clearly blockchain's potential to reduce waste and fraud in development finance and commodities.
All that's left is to prove that it works.
By allowing donors to track money, goods, and treatment in real time, blockchain could transform how organizations fund and execute health programs, curbing waste, saving money, and bringing better care to billions.
—Blockchain and Global Health, Foreign Affairs, November 2017
Following two proof-of-concept projects conducted in partnership with CERN in Geneva, Denominator won a two-year Grand Challenge Explorations award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to investigate, evaluate and disseminate evidence that demonstrates the utility of blockchain in a real-world vaccine supply chain setting.
Denominator believes that the vaccine supply chain is an optimal test environment for blockchain in development. Immunization supply chains in many developing countries share common checkpoints despite procurement from multiple manufacturers, with most vaccines being routed through UNICEF-managed central stores on their way to regional and local warehouses.
This trait mitigates the risk of a successful blockchain implementation in one vaccine product line or country failing in another, compared to, for example, drug supply chains where product flows are more fragmented. This also allows for rapid polling of blockchain data across multiple regions to quickly and accurately map the movement of product along the entire supply chain.
Besides information such as vaccine type, manufacture date and destination, additional data can be securely added to the blockchain from devices such as next-generation vaccine vial monitors and cold chain equipment, to help visualize exactly when and where a temperature excursion or other adverse event may have happened.
Our hypothesis is that blockchain-based supply chain logistics platforms will result in significant improvements for each of the following actors: manufacturers, managers, logisticians, healthcare workers, government officials, and international organizations.
The downstream outcome of these improvements should be a quantifiable reduction in vaccine product wastage, leading to improved procurement against demand, sustained high levels of consumer trust of vaccines, more children fully vaccinated with viable product, and consequently, greater aversion of vaccine-preventable child morbidity and mortality.
Reducing Waste and Fraud
Known incidents of counterfeiting and fraud in vaccines are less frequent in vaccines than in higher-value drug products – but when it happens, the consequences for vaccine confidence and safety are dire.
Denominator will test whether blockchain-enabled logistics management and analytical platforms can reliably detect the time and place of diversions of product toward unintended destinations, as well as the introduction of spurious/counterfeit product into a supply chain – enabling stakeholders to characterize and react to fraud patterns previously untraceable.