WHO Expiry Alarm: How to save millions of tablets from expiring

March 2, 2021

We work with some of the biggest pharmaceutical clients in the world in an area known as Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). Over 1 billion people around the world are at risk to NTDs every year. There's a family of NTDs called "PC NTDs" that can be prevented (hence the name 'preventative chemotherapy'). These PC NTDs are prevented using medicines donated by Johnson & Johnson, Merck KGaA, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer.

When we think of donation programs, we typically think of groups that donate time or money. But these large pharma partners donate medicine (along with money). We're not just talking about a few truckloads of meds. We're talking 1.8 billion tablets every single year. And how do these large partners coordinate their donations with WHO, country offices, and shipping / logistic providers? Using our supply chain optimization and visibility tool, NTDeliver.

NTDeliver is a cloud based supply chain optimization and visualization tool

We could probably write about a half dozen case studies about NTDeliver (which we will! until then, read this awesome case study). But for now, we're going to focus on one small part of NTDeliver that saved these donation programs $4.2 million in 2020.

The Expiry Alarm: What is it?

Each year, these pharma partners donate billions of tablets to low and middle income countries. These shipments consist of "batches" which represent where, how, and when that specific tablet was made. Look at any prescription you have in your cabinet and you'll find it associated with a specific batch.

When these large shipments land in the country, they are subdivided by batch to various corners of the country. Since these countries often have decentralized information systems, accountability on these batches is often difficult to maintain. Where are they? Who has them? What is their stock and how many people were treated with these medicines? And perhaps as important, are any of these batches set to expire?

The expiry alarm sends emails alerting personnel that batches are set to expire

How does the Expiry Alarm work?

Creating a tool that sends alerts when an expiration date is upcoming is really straightforward, right? Of course it is. Any junior computer science major has written about a dozen of these.

The challenge though is sourcing the data for these expiry alarms. Where does the data come from? And what format is it in?

This is where our data-as-a-service expertise comes in.

Each week, the pharma partners send us what's called a "packing list". In supply chain speak, this is a simple document (almost always a PDF) that outlines what batches comprise a shipment. Maybe you're sending 1,000,000 tablets of a certain medicine to Kenya. And that shipment is comprised of 10 batches, each totaling 100,000 tablets. Our system is smart enough to automatically pull the relevant information out of the PDF, standardize the data (b/c each partner has a different packing list; some call batches "lots"; others send us data in bottles, while other send us tablets, etc, etc), and automatically assign those batches to different contact lists based on the destination of the shipments (i.e. people in Nigeria don't necessarily care about shipments to Kenya).

Every night, the Expiry Alarm wakes up and queries the system for any batches that are set to expire in the next 12, 6, 3, or 1 month. It sends out a flurry of messages via email and WhatsApp to a variety of stakeholders, partners, and on the ground personnel letting them know that, "hey, some of your medicine is going to expire"

Does it really .... work?

YES! In 2020, the Africa region of WHO used the tool to help save 32 million tablets from expiration. That adds up to about $4.2 million in potentially lost donated medicine. But maybe more importantly, that adds up to millions of children who will receive those life altering medications.