Back to top

Stories of Change: How Colalife is working with mothers to co-create diarrhoea kits for children

Author: Lorna Reed
Published Date: 7 June 2016

At SIX we think it is important to tell stories where social innovation has impacted people’s lives for the better. Our Stories of Change series tells you the stories that inspire us from around the world.

Brenda Mudenda is from the remote Ndindi Village of Kalomo district in Zambia. She is 25 years old and has four children, the youngest of which suffered with diarrhoea in 2013. Despite using traditional medicines, the situation worsened with the child and they were forced to travel 40km to Bbilili rural health centre. Here the staff recommended Kit Yamoyo, to be used for 5 days. The child was safely discharged from the clinic following this course of treatment. Without the Kit, the child might have died. Stories like Brenda's are unfortunately commonplace around Zambia. Mothers either do not have access to adequate medicine or the correct dose.

Colalife, a small UK-based NGO is working with mothers to change this by co-create a new diarrhoea kit to save more children’s lives across Zambia.

The Problem

The biggest killer of children under 5 globally is Diarrhoea. Surprising perhaps, given that the internationally recommended treatment is so simple in the eyes of the developed world; Oral Rehydration Salts and Zinc can treat the disease and reduce symptoms in a matter of days. However only 1% of children in sub-Saharan Africa actually have access to this treatment, and even then the parents need to know how to correctly administer and measure the dosage for it to be effective. Unfortunately, this lack of knowledge is often another barrier to successful treatment.

What’s the innovation?

Colalife is a charity organisation that uses the processes within private sector supply chains to distribute aid products for social benefit. The idea was inspired by the unused space created between Cola bottles when aligned in transportation crates. These bottles manage to reach even the last mile communities that are often missed by the supply chains providing products of perhaps a higher necessity, such as oral rehydration salts, or zinc supplements. Colalife have developed their own products and now use these private sector supply chains to distribute to those distant areas.

To tackle the challenges of effective diarrhoea treatment, Colalife have developed a low cost lifesaving kit, designed to carry treatment as well as educate users. Kit Yamoyo holds 200ml sachets of oral rehydration salts (ORS), 10 zinc tablets and soap, all packaged in a container that serves as both a mixing and storage device, and a cup to take the ORS. The container clearly marks how much water should be added with picture diagrams. Crucially, Colalife actually worked with mothers and carers of children in Zambia to thoroughly understand what was needed, and therefore developed this effective design.

How do the kit and distribution methods work together in practice?

At first, Colalife envisaged distribution of the Kit Yamoyo through the unused space in the Coca-Cola crates. A container was designed to fit between the bottles and carry the kits. When put into practice, only 4% of the kits were actually transported this way – they realised that it wasn't the logistics but the product itself that turned out to be the innovation. The demand for the product was so strong that it was reaching shelves of retail shops even in last mile communities without having to rely on Coca-Cola. Efforts were therefore instead focused on increasing the social value of the product, as distribution took care of itself.

What were the results?

After the 12-month trial in Zambia, evaluations in June 2014 found an increase in the percentage of children receiving effective treatment from 1% to 45%. The educational packaging resulted in 93% of users correctly measuring the ORS compared to 60% previously when sachets were used. As the kits were distributed in local retailers rather than health clinics, the time and distance travelled was significantly reduced, meaning treatment could be more rapidly administered. After this phenomenal success, the project was scaled in 2015; Shoprite, Zambia’s largest supermarket, began to stock the kit in November.