How smart packaging can save lives

Can something as simple as proper packaging save lives? The reverse is certainly true.

The World Health Organization recommends that tetanus vaccines are stored in temperatures from 2-8°C, otherwise the vaccine might become not only unusable, but a health hazard. In areas where there is vast supply, losing a shipment is not the end of the world; however, a sudden disaster can lead to no supply, and the worst possible scenario: the loss of lives.

But that worst-case scenario is set to become a risk of the past. Newly commercialized methods of Smart Packagingpackaging allow for temperature stability for up to five days, overcoming probably more than 90% of disruptions in supply. The highest level of security can be obtained through the wonder of modern technology called the Internet of Things. The little pack of medicines, hidden deep in the air cargo pallet, can now send data to doctors in Kampala, telling them how warm or cold it is in the transit warehouse, and how long it has been stuck at the airport in Addis Ababa.

Consider the following real life example: During transit of a thermal pallet shipper, Henry Schein Inc. – the world’s largest provider of healthcare products and services to office-based dental, animal health and medical practitioners – was experiencing significant customs delays at a location in the Middle East. The important shipment of vaccines, diagnostics and antibiotics was at risk to become waste, and lost to those expecting and needing the supplies. However, the data provided by web-based technology alarmed Henry Schein that the packaging was reaching its thermal limits. Through close collaboration with the transportation partner the required reconditioning prior to delivery to customers was ensured, all occurring without any damage. Smart packaging prevented this shipment from spoiling in transit, which would have caused significant shortages of medical supplies to the areas of need.

Security packaging with anti-counterfeiting technologies plays also a vital role in fighting the $200 billion counterfeit drug industry. Smart packing will alleviate health risks associated with adulterated drugs, the catch-all term for contaminated, unsterile, unsafe, spoiled or expired products. According to a study published by The Lancet on 2,634 malaria drug samples, more than one-third failed as substandard after chemical analysis, and about 20% were found to be wholly counterfeit. Today’s packaging design goes far beyond material quality but helps to focus on improved barrier properties to moisture, UV light, oxygen, shock and carbon dioxide.

The world of connected and communicating things offers unprecedented perspectives into life protection and healthcare. Ultimately, packing will carry all vital information, ranging from the evidence that the product is genuine, to the conditions the goods experienced during the sometimes very long journey from the factory to patients and users.

This will not be the end, however, of the development. Increasingly popular wearables in the form of smart watches, glasses and even textiles will not only be able to receive and analyse the data sent by the smart packages, but produce and communicate individual information, which at some point will allow for individualized drugs and treatments.

This blog was originally posted on the World Economic Forum Agenda.

Author: Wolfgang Lehmacher is Director, Head of Supply Chain and Transport, Mobility Industries at the World Economic Forum.

Image: Various medicine pills in their original packaging are seen in Ljubljana REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic

Innovation in Home Health and Medical Care Logistics

The world’s growing elderly population and the general interest of the world’s population in health and medical care represents a major new market for entrepreneurial transportation and logistics managers as policy makers look to expand home care solutions.

On 22 February 2013, I have published in the Journal of Commerce covering the same topic with the title Medical Logistics Offers Opportunities for 3PLs.


Logistics companies have huge opportunities to benefit from home care, from the results of the rising age of the world’s population and the increasing needs and interest in the matter as a whole. The strain health treatment will place on public services in the years ahead will see both developed and developing countries increasingly turn to home care options as they seek ways of coping with accelerating demand for health and medical care.

Holistic approaches to home health and medical care with logistics services at their core will give governments and citizens a whole new and more convenient and cost effective way of managing demand for health and medical care in the future. Processes and services can be tailored to specific customer segments to make them as smart as possible through the use of technology.

Working together, transportation, technology, security companies and logistics businesses can partner with nurse networks, pharmacies and hospitals to provide viable methods of caring for the citizens. The opportunities for logistics companies to make themselves critical to the delivery and monitoring of such services are immense and already being developed.

Over 80 percent of the world’s elderly population will live in developing countries by 2050, according to a new report by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and HelpAge International.

Ageing in the Twenty-first Century: A Celebration and a Challenge found that the number of elderly persons is growing faster than any other age group. The report said the trend represented a huge challenge and would require completely new approaches to health care, retirement, living arrangements and intergenerational relations.

In 2000, for the first time in history, there were more people over 60 than children below the age of 5. By 2050, the elderly generation will be larger than the under-15 population. In just 10 years, the number of elderly persons will surpass 1 billion people—an increase of close to 200 million people over the decade. Today two out of three people aged 60 or over live in developing countries. By 2050, this will rise to nearly four in five.

“If not addressed promptly, the consequences of these issues are likely to take unprepared countries by surprise,” said the report. “In many developing countries with large populations of young people, for example, the challenge is that governments have not put policies and practices in place to support their current older populations or made enough preparations for 2050.”

However, the opportunity in the health and medical care sector goes far beyond the segment of the elderly and expands into the way we monitor the health conditions of the entire population. General health checks in adults for reducing morbidity and mortality from disease (Review) published by The Cochrane Collaboration states that “General health checks did not reduce morbidity or mortality, neither overall nor for cardiovascular or cancer causes, although the number of new diagnoses was increased. Important harmful outcomes, such as the number of follow-up diagnostic procedures or short term psychological effects, were often not studied or reported and many trials had methodological problems. With the large number of participants and deaths included, the long follow-up periods used, and considering that cardiovascular and cancer mortality were not reduced, general health checks are unlikely to be beneficial.”

What this report indicates is that comparison with the national or international average relative to the health care parameters, for example blood pressure, doesn’t mean anything to anyone and what matters most is the comparison with the health care tracking data of each individual against the own record.

Therefore, the market should not be segmented along age-brackets. We need to understand the needs in respect to health and medical care across the entire population and segment accordingly.

Home health and medical care solutions can be divided into three components – Monitoring and Examination, Vital Sign Check and Medical Treatment.

The ‘Monitoring and Examination’ process such as providing a sample for analysis would take in a number of stages with a logistics component such as delivery of test kits from agencies to the citizen and the return of the sample to the agency. Having obtained the sample analysis, this data would then need to be delivered to medical institutions and follow-up could involve the delivery of a suitable treatment to the individual.

Taking a ‘Vital Sign Check’ of a person could mean delivering medical equipment and software from manufacturers to individuals and managing the data received from home and its online delivery and analysis.

‘Medical Treatment’ services might incorporate diagnosis, treatment, medication and food delivery. This process could see diagnosis and some treatment by remote communication systems, with wholesalers or retailers requiring the delivery of drugs or food directly to individuals at home.

Although such treatments would involve a whole range of companies – from equipment and pharmaceutical suppliers to telecommunications and catering experts – transportation and logistics will be crucial to the whole value chain.

Best practices for the potential roll-out of home care solutions have already been identified with a major logistics component for Japanese distributors looking at their provision in Japan and in emerging markets. The model developed sees logistics companies take responsibility for the home delivery of equipment needed for vital sign checks, various other test kits, home security devices and a range of medical and communication equipment.

The handling of samples such as blood and sensitive drugs, for example, must be carefully managed with guaranteed temperature control. Logistics companies can also offer security monitoring services, including a face-to-face check of individuals and patients at the time of delivery of kits, medicine and food.

Japanese company Yamato Holdings for example is offering many of these services in Japan. These services include refrigerated delivery of samples and medicine between individuals, manufacturers and wholesalers. The company is also in partnership with a supermarket to offer shopping support services for the elderly, handicapped and sick in the shape of daily food deliveries, while trials of face-to-face health checks at the time of food delivery are ongoing.

Another Japanese company, Suzuken, offers delivery services from pharmaceutical companies to wholesalers, retailers and medical institutions and end customers using normal and refrigerated transport options.

By working with other key suppliers such as regulators of health quality, electronics, medical equipment and pharmaceutical suppliers, as well as telecommunication and security providers, logistics companies and managers have global opportunities to stake new ground in the rapidly growing home health and medical care market.