Can Ethnographic Research Help Improve Vaccine Delivery? The Gates Foundation Hope So

If you were to simplify the game plan of the Gates Foundation’s vaccine delivery strategy, it would be to get the vaccines where they need to go and administer them to the people that need them most. Of course, it isn’t that simple, and there are many factors inhibiting vaccine delivery, such as high costs and poor infrastructure. But there are also some less obvious factors that relate to culture and how healthcare workers behave. 

In customary fashion, the Gates Foundation wants every last shred of information it can gather related to issues that can literally mean the difference between life and death. One tool that it's employing is ethnographic research. 

Recently, the Gates Foundation awarded Bull City Learning, a North Carolina-based multimedia learning company, a $660,000 grant to research how routine vaccinations are managed in rural African clinics. To begin, Bull City will use ethnographic approaches to observe immunization and primary care practices at a handful of health clinics in rural Uganda. The company will gather qualitative information through live observations, video, and photography. Everything will then be analyzed by a panel of experts from various disciplines including global health, general medicine, industrial design, and ethnography.

The goal of the new project, which will conclude after one year, is to gain a better understanding of vaccine participation by studying the overall culture of a specific region. The study will also look into other issues that may help or hinder vaccine participation such as vaccine handling and delivery.

The Gates Foundation has been supporting vaccine delivery and development programs since its early days in the late 1990s. Since then, the foundation has thrown billions of dollars into everything from polio eradication to the development of a kid-friendly device that detects the tetanus vaccination.

Related: Gates Foundation: Grants for Global Health

Of course, having a great vaccine isn't of much use if it doesn't get to the people who need it, which is why the Gates Foundation is leaving no stone unturned to improve delivery. 

And while it is true that Gates does tend to support well established, well known, and often large organizations, what Bull City lacks in world renown it makes up for in reputation—at least in global development and health circles. The company, which was just founded in 2013, has already provided assistance and global health assessments to both UNICEF and the WHO. 

This is Bull City's first grant from the Gates Foundation.