Ride-sharing could improve Uganda vaccination rates, UMN researchers say

The project is funded by a $100,000 grant.

Michelle Griffith

A University of Minnesota research team hopes ride-sharing will be the key to improving infant vaccination rates in Uganda.

Transportation to vaccination clinics is hard to come by in low-income, high-density regions of Uganda, which means many kids go unvaccinated. Researchers are optimistic that ride-sharing services like Uber and SafeBoda — a ride-share company that uses motorcycles instead of cars — as well as free ride vouchers will make it easier for children to get measles shots and, hopefully, avoid disease outbreaks.

“This is a way to partner with the local community to try to improve access to health care in a way that is hopefully cheaper, more cost-effective and can lead to better health outcomes,” study head and University assistant professor Diana Negoescu said.

A recently awarded $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will fund the study for 18 months. Now, researchers are working to project the transportation methods’ costs and effectiveness, Negoescu said. 

Previous studies transported healthcare workers to villages to vaccinate citizens, but this strategy is expensive because it involves the ownership and maintenance of multiple vehicles, Negoescu said. She said she hopes they can use existing community resources to get people to vaccination clinics.

In Uganda, more people have cell phones than they do electricity. This project will also send text message reminders to mothers when their children are due for their next vaccinations, University School of Public Health assistant professor Nicole Basta said.

Measles is still a problem in Uganda, said Basta, who studies the local and global effects of vaccines. In the last few years, there have been some large-scale outbreaks in Uganda, she said.

The project is still in its beginning stages, but the University’s School of Public Health and School of Engineering along with the Makerere University in Uganda are already working together to gather data and make adjustments, Negoescu said.

Between January and August 2017, 216 measles cases were reported in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. Forty-seven percent of these cases occurred in children 1-5 years old, and 40 percent never received the measles vaccine, according to the World Health Organization.