October 10, 2014 Introducing: Our New Team Member Carmen!

Hello VaxTrac community! As my first full week comes to a close I’m happy to announce how thrilled I am to be a part of such a hands on and collaborative team. From the beginning I’ve been excited to work for a group that is directly impacting others around the world in such a positive way. I come from a Marketing and Business Management educational background and bring accounting and financial experiences from several different industries, including construction and legal practices. To finally have the opportunity to apply my office skills and creative passions for a worthy cause is a dream come true. I am in awe of the WeWork Wonder Bread facility we get to work in. We are definitely surrounded by a dedicated group of talented people that cultivates an inspiring work environment. Great for the coming winter months!

At the Oregon coast this past summer.

At the Oregon coast this past summer.

I moved to DC a year ago and originally hail from Seattle, Washington. I grew up there, as many others from the Pacific Northwest, with a huge love for the great outdoors. Anytime I can get to go hiking, running or swimming I’m a happy camper. As a little girl I wasn’t allowed to come inside unless it was time to eat; I miss those days!  I have enjoyed the east coast and try to see as much of this side of the country as I can. It’s amazing how much ground you can cover in just a short weekend trip. Everything is so close to each other! I love photography and I’ve been blessed with a lot of opportunity for adventure in the area. I’ve been camping on a beach with wild horses on Assateague Island, went rock climbing over a lake at New River Gorge, visited George Washington’s home in Mount Vernon and hope to have many other photo ops in this coming fall season. I also love food. I know it isn’t all that original, but I do enjoy playing around with different things and getting to eat, eat, EAT.

All in all, I’m pretty open to new things and the fact that I get to work with an organization directly impacting places and improving the lives of people around the world is just wonderful. I am beyond grateful and humbled to work with such driven and established people. I look forward to supporting all of our teams in administrative, HR and accounting roles. I’ll also be working with our team to upgrade our website. We’ve got a lot of great ideas and with the implementation of tablets in Benin and new project in Nepal coming up soon we’ll have a lot to share. As I continue to learn more about VaxTrac’s endeavors I’ll be sharing them with all of you on our social media platforms! Stay tuned, I think it’s going to a lot of fun!

October 7, 2014 Welcome: Lauren Spigel!

Lauren Spigel here signing in as VaxTrac’s newest Program Associate.  Tomorrow marks my one week anniversary with VaxTrac and I’m absolutely thrilled to be here.

I come to VaxTrac with several years of global health experience.  After focusing on international health as an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, I decided to go off into the world and get some field experience.  I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nicaragua from 2011-2013, where I lived in a bustling community in the mountains, worked on health education activities on the municipal level, ate fresh avocados, adopted a puppy, and drank fresh juice out of the corner of plastic bags.

My work in Nicaragua primarily focused on sexual and reproductive health among women in rural areas. I worked with the local Ministry of Health to train brigadistas (community health volunteers) in various health themes, had women’s groups and a weekly radio show.  One of the most exciting projects that came out of my Peace Corps service is ChatSalud, a project that uses mobile phones to connect youth to sexual and reproductive health information via SMS. The project sparked my interest and passion for mobile health (mHealth), which takes advantage of the fact that 90% of the world’s population has access to mobile phones. mHealth provides an unparalleled opportunity to expand the reach of existing health care systems to the least accessible corners of the world.

Lauren doing mHealth research in Terrabona, Matagalpa Nicaragua.

Lauren doing mHealth research in Terrabona, Matagalpa Nicaragua.

Upon returning Stateside, I completed the Master of Public Health program at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, where I became actively involved in the JHU Global mHealth Initiative and managed to incorporate mHealth into most of my classes.

I’m so excited to bring my knowledge and experience to VaxTrac’s projects.  Beyond that, VaxTrac has been so incredibly warm and welcoming.  My Nicaraguan dog Maní and I have been settling into life at the office and I’m so thrilled to be part of the VaxTrac family.

Lauren and Maní settling in at the new WeWork office

Lauren and Maní settling in at the new WeWork office.

More updates to come, as Meredith has informed me that we’re spending a good chunk of November in Nepal!

September 19, 2014 Trip Notes: Meredith on Navigating Nepal

Mark and I at the top of the summit! Just kidding... Monkey Temple.

Mark and me at the top of the summit! Just kidding… Monkey Temple.

 

The beautiful Summit Hotel in Kathmandu overlooks the bustling city below, nestled between sloping hills which sit comfortably in the shadow of regal snow-capped mountains. It is also full of International aid workers, because naturally, everyone wants to work in Nepal.  The government estimates in fact that there are over 15,000 individual organizations working in the country throughout all sectors. As you can imagine, I was a little hesitant to dive in and start navigating the waters of partnership building in such a highly saturated ecosystem, but my fears were quickly assuaged as we jumped right in and got to work (shout out to Joon and Ravi at UNICEF Nepal for being such wonderful guides during our first hazy 48 hours!).

Mark and I spent several days in Kathmandu meeting with various stakeholders from our partners (UNICEF and WHO/CDC), to key people from the national ministry of health, and various consultants and experts from the immunization, technology, and health system strengthening space. It was an exciting, informative, and exhausting first week to say the least!

If we thought we might get a nice relaxing weekend, we were mistaken. Instead, we worked with WHO to organize a site visit to Nawalparasi in the terai region, one of two districts in which we will be implementing in early 2015. As someone so aptly explained to us, Nepal is laid out like a sidewise strip of bacon: the top golden brown layer is the mountains, the stripy red/yellow middle part is the hills, and the deep red piece that runs along the bottom is the terai. As it turns out, we will be working along the delicious bottom strip of the country that shares a border with India.  Much like fresh bacon, Nawalparasi is sizzling hot.

Busy streets in Nawalparasi.

Busy streets in Nawalparasi.

Despite the steamy temps, we had an incredible couple of days with our colleagues from WHO, CDC, and the US Fund for UNICEF (have to insert another shout out here to Susanna, Keiko, and Michelle for being such great travel partners!). Not only were we all graciously welcomed by the District Health Office staff, we were able to gather almost all of the information necessary for our initial project planning after visiting several different types of health facilities and speaking directly with facility managers and community health workers. We saw that Nawalparasi has a very well structured vaccine delivery system and can even boast that it is a fully immunized district! Like any project, this one will not be without its challenges, but it’s always a huge advantage to have such support from a local level and we certainly found that in Nawalparasi. As a small cherry on top, we were able to find a few hours in our busy schedule to visit Lumbini, the sacred birthplace of Buddha. Even in the rain, there’s no denying that this is a beautiful place that compels one to pause, and self-reflect. It was a wonderful way to mark the midway point in our busy trip.

With health managers in Nawalparasi.

With health managers in Nawalparasi.

Our second week found us back in the smoky hustle and bustle of Kathmandu, meeting with some inspiring and impressive NGOs and attending an eHealth strategy workshop organized by the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, showcasing both local eHealth projects and organizations as well as those from around the world. It was so cool to see so much capacity around using technology to improve health outcomes. We left the workshop feeling more motivated than ever to get to work and find our place in this rapidly developing and innovative health system.

All in all, the trip was a huge success. It’s near impossible to sum up all of the things we did and saw and what a different experience it was for me to see this part of the world. We owe a great deal to our amazing friends and colleagues both in Nepal and in the US for making it all happen. There’s certainly another trip in our near future to visit our second district (Dadeldhura in the Far West) and I’m excited to share this beautiful country with the rest of our team. For now, I’ll leave you with some Buzzfeed worthy trip highlights. Namaste!!

At our wonderful Newari cooking class.

At our wonderful Newari cooking class.

 5 Things to Never Do Around Monkeys

  • Eat. Seriously, they will steal everything and you will be hungry.
  • Ride bicycles past them quickly. Apparently, you will invoke a terrifying hissing sound.
  • Take their picture. They will smell your weakness for dumb tourist souvenirs and exploit it.
  • Give them your “empty” bottles. Unless you want that last half an ounce sprayed all over your shirt as they proceed to turn the bottle into their new favorite chew toy game.
  • Hiss at them to go away. I’m looking at you, army guy at the airport. Not helping, they’re just getting angry.

 8 Things to Buy in Nepal

  • Tiny Buddhas. Statues for all your friends and family so they know how worldly you are!
  • Prayer flags. To decorate your neighbors cubicle.
  • Tiny Buddhas.
  • Yak wool shawls. Mostly because they’re all on sale during the summer (bargain!).
  • Tiny Buddhas.
  • Anything Kama Sutra related. Seriously, you can get anything.
  • Tiny Buddhas. (You can really never have too many.)
  • Singing Bowls. For the healing powers, and to distract people in meetings.

September 17, 2014 Press: VaxTrac Launches Vial to Child Project in Nepal

Women wait to have their children vaccinated at a health post in Amraut, Nawalparasi.

VaxTrac proudly announces its new project, Vial to Child, launching in Nepal, September 2014. The pilot project is in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), with the dedicated collaboration of the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) Nepal and key health stakeholders on the ground.

VaxTrac works to provide developing countries with the technologies and support they need to maximize the effectiveness of their vaccination programs.  Vial to Child is currently VaxTrac’s second international project, and first in the Southeast Asia region.

VaxTrac’s first and ongoing project in Benin, West Africa, will serve as a model for the Nepal project.  It employs a vaccine management system comprised of two parts: a fingerprint scanner plus an android based tablet or smartphone loaded with VaxTrac software customized for local needs.  The VaxTrac system enables health centers to digitize their vaccination management process with the goal of: improved record keeping practices, maximized efficiency of frontline health workers and streamlined delivery of health services, particularly for children under the age of five.

Vaccination session at the sub health post of Germi in Nawalparasi.

Most Nepalese live in rural, often remote locations, where access to quality healthcare services can be limited.  One of the main causes of death among infants and young children involve diseases, like pneumonia and measles, which are often vaccine-preventable, but in areas where record keeping is often precarious, it can be a challenge to provide all children with these life-saving vaccines in a timely and efficient manner. A tablet based system like VaxTrac can help take clinic level vaccine management out to these isolated areas where children are most in need.

With the Vial to Child project, VaxTrac will be primarily responsible for customizing and implementing the tablet based vaccine management system in the selected districts, supporting project management, ongoing supervision, and in country training and clinic support.  The VaxTrac system will be tailored to mirror the paper based national vaccine record system, will appear in the Nepali language, and use the Nepali calendar.

The project will be implemented in January 2015 in two rural/semi-rural districts.  WHO will support the project in the district of Nawalparasi in the Western region (Terai), while UNICEF will lend support to Dadeldhura in the Far West (Hills).  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will provide additional support to Vial to Child by helping guide the evaluation process across both districts and work closely with the Ministry of Health and Population and all other key stakeholders.

We look forward to collaborating with all of our partners on this momentous project to improve child health in Nepal.

September 2, 2014 Wrapping Up… Summer Associates Reflect: Anita

Anita and Mark with her awesome certificate.

Reflecting on the last ten weeks of my time as a summer program associate VaxTrac and trying to put it into words has proven to be immensely difficult.  You’ve read about our first impressions at the beginning of the summer along with our trips to Benin, but trying to encapsulate the entire experience into a blog post is nearly impossible.

When I started this summer, I had no idea what to expect.  My previous work experience was limited to large corporate financial institutions and I worried about successfully transitioning to a non-profit start-up work environment.  Ten weeks later, I can confirm that not only was this summer the most fulfilling work experience I have ever had, but it made me realize that this sector of healthcare is where I see my future.

Mary Michael and I started in June with a wonderful week of orientation in Washington, D.C.  This gave us a chance to meet the rest of the team in D.C. along with learning about the different project opportunities for us to work on.  Meredith, Jessi, and Mark each took turns writing different general ideas or goals they had on a white board and then the most surprising thing happened-they took a step back and told Mary Michael and I to pick what projects we were most interested in.  They stressed that they only wanted us to work on projects that we found personally and intellectually stimulating.  Never have I been in a job environment where my interests took priority in determining my work scope.  Once we had determined what areas we were most interested in, it was time for our work to begin!

We headed back to Atlanta and set up our Atlanta office.  While Mary Michael and I had initially thought we would work on our projects separately, we quickly realized that collaborating on our ideas would provide a more efficient and overall better work product.  We bounced ideas of each other, playing to our own strengths, and were able to come up with three main goals for the summer: create a process map for the vaccine record keeping system in Benin, analyze the timeliness of vaccine delivery using the data that the VaxTrac system captures and use a combination of observation and interview-based data to track health worker efficiency in the field (for more details on this, read Mary Michael’s final blog post-she does a great job of explaining all) .  In addition to these projects, we also got to help work on the monitoring and evaluating tools along with being in charge of social media of the organization.  I was most apprehensive about the social media portion of the summer but it ended up being one of my favorite things to do.  Mary Michael was kind enough to get me up to speed on terms like “re-tweet” and soon our mornings started off with brainstorming ideas for updating VaxTrac’s many different forms of social media including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  The highlight of this project was when we were re-tweeted by The Gates Foundation (yes-we are still bragging about this).

VaxTrac staff with Anita and Mary Michael on their last day in Atlanta.

Here I am, a page into this blog post and I’ve barely gotten through week two of the internship-see what I mean about how difficult this summer is to encapsulate?  In order to avoid writing an entire novel, I’ll go over the rest of the summer with major highlights.  Mary Michael and I spent most of the time in the Atlanta office with Mark working on our projects.  The World Cup could probably be considered a VaxTrac employee this summer as it became a focal point-and a source of contention when we created a VaxTrac bracket (congratulations again Duncan-I promise I’m not still bitter…).  We each took separate trips to Benin (read about it in our travel blog posts!) which provided invaluable research and insights to our projects.  Near the end of the summer, Mark informed us that we would be presenting our research and findings to the VaxTrac team along with two leaders in global immunization.  Mary Michael and I were very nervous but also excited to share what we had found and accomplished.  We presented on our second to last day of work and were overwhelmed by the positive responses from everyone in the audience.  To have a leader from the CDC come and ask insightful questions and provide us with great feedback was humbling, to say the least.

We ended our summer with a final day of feedback and exit interviews.  Mark, Meredith, and Jessi not only wanted to give us their feedback on our performance this summer, but also to hear about our own reflections and recommendations for future summer program associates.  The day concluded with us receiving our awesome certificates and headed out to have a celebratory glass of champagne before Meredith and Jessi went back to D.C.  It might sound strange to say, but I was incredibly sad that the internship was ending.  It felt like we had just started our work and there was so much left to do!  This was sincerely the best summer and work experience I’ve ever had and it definitely ended too soon.  If you want to hear the full story of the summer, just let me know (and make sure to set aside about 5 hours)!

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