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TED Gives a Boost to Global Vaccination App

As a 2013-15 Executive Branch Fellow at the Department of Defense, Catharine Young works on global biological issues. Here, she learned about the “shocking disparity between developing countries grappling with major global health issues and the lack of resources available to them.”

Catharine Young
Catharine Young speaks at TEDGlobal2014. | TED/Ryan Lash

One in five children in the developing world do not receive vaccines, leading to two million needless deaths each year. The problem, however, is not in the availability of vaccines, but in the fact that fully half of them never make it to the intended destination. The journey vaccines take – from the manufacturer to the patient (the supply chain) – entails enormous obstacles including long and inefficient transportation routes and lack of refrigeration.

“The key to solving complex problems such as this, is data – and lots of it,” said Young. Together with her brother, who works in logistics software, and her husband, a professor at George Washington University Medical School, she developed a mobile app to collect all of the data on the supply chain to expose weak points that can be improved. The app relies on a different way of looking at the problem: instead of tracking individual vaccine vials which is costly and labor intensive, it uses a proxy and tracks the driver.

With a goal of saving 50% of the vaccines that are lost annually, Young was selected as a TED fellow and sent in October to TEDGlobal 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to present the idea that may one day save a tremendous number of lives.

Being an STPF fellow played a huge part in being selected as a TED Fellow. The AAAS fellowship has provided me with an array of the foundational skills crucial for working on many of today’s pressing issues and I am incredibly grateful for this experience.

A highly competitive program, 40 TED fellows from around the world are selected each year as a way to give momentum to their ideas. TED fellows “receive an immense amount of professional development training ranging from putting together an effective talk to how to choose graphics that help tell a story,” said Young.

“Without a doubt, being a AAAS STPF fellow played a huge part in being selected as a TED fellow. AAAS fellows are highly motived individuals who are often looking for something outside of the typical (academic) box, a very common trait amongst TED fellows. The AAAS fellowship and the outstanding experiences I have had so far working at the Department of Defense (and traveling to places such as Armenia and Uzbekistan) helped me formulate the idea I presented at TEDGlobal.”