Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Ganesh Singh of Hilleman Labs contributed the winning entry to C66

Ganesh Singh of Hilleman Labs contributed the winning entry to "Challenge 66",
an attempt in understanding survival at extremely impoverished conditions.
His ingenuity struck an innovative cord, as the blog explains below.

Challenge 66 was about survival. It was about living your life, when you are down to the wire, with only 66 rupees in your pocket. How does one survive on just 66 rupees?? And that too for at least 3 days? That's the challenge we posed to our employees, in an event hosted by Hilleman Labs two weeks ago. 

Imagine, we told them, that you are shipwrecked on a deserted island. You are the lone survivor and you must find a way to live for at least 3 days before you can be rescued. So pack a kit, we said, that lets you survive, with not much else to go on. Be bold, be creative. That was it. Those were our instructions. 

And boy, were they creative! Amazingly, our staff came up with a dizzying variety of innovative solutions ranging from the mysterious to the mind boggling. While most purchased the expected bottles of drinking water, and packets of Parle biscuits, others were far more creative. 

Some bought small knives, others candles and matches, some camphor to pray to God, and yet others sugarcane sticks that doubled as rich sources of nutrition as well as poles to hold up tarpaulin and construct a temporary shelter. 

The range of thinking that went into the assembly of kits was truly impressive. The competition was thick. 

But the winning entry came from an unexpected staff member far removed from any doings of Vaccine R&D.  In fact, this member manages the Hilleman buildings and facilities. 

Mr. Ganesh Singh is an ex-Navy officer, dedicated to creative thought in everyday living. It is no surprise that he would know best about surviving a shipwreck on a deserted island, more than anybody else. 

Mr. Singh packed in his kit, a simple water purification system to provide sufficient drinking water for a few days. He bought a fishing line that would allow him to eat from the sea and survive for days, if not for months. He also bought flint to start a fire and some simple tools to hunt and gather.  He had a make-shift shelter that would protect him from sunstroke or from a sudden flash of lightning. 

Most impressively, Mr. Singh acquired his entire collection using just 66 rupees. He showed us how one survives on just 66 rupees, if one's life depended on it. Mr. Singh taught us innovative ideas can come from anyone. 

Of course, the big question on everyone's mind was why 66? Why not 99 or 101? Or 555? Well, the answer lies in a very simple fact. It turns out that in the world of affordable vaccines, to which Hilleman Labs is dedicated, one often hears the mantra: "a vaccine for dollar a dose".  That is, a dose of a vaccine sold for just one dollar.  This mantra has now become the cornerstone of vaccine development in poor countries, so much so that it has become the de facto expectation. We reasoned, if a vaccine could be manufactured and sold for such a low price, what does a dollar - roughly 66 rupees - really buy you these days? 

Vaccine manufacture is a rather difficult and complex process. There are many complicated steps involved and each batch of the vaccine produced must undergo a battery of rigorous tests to ensure that it is of the highest quality, and standards meeting those of the World Health Organization. Vaccine manufacturers have often expressed that with rising costs and increasing stringency in quality, control, it has become difficult to meet the demand of "a dollar a dose" vaccine. 

And yet, Challenge 66 showed us the street value of 66 rupees. Of how the common man can in fact stretch his 66 rupees a long way, especially if his survival depended on it. Mr. Singh showed us very cleverly that 66 rupees can buy you plenty, to keep you going for a few days on basic life necessities. So why should it not be possible to produce a life-saving dose of vaccine for that price? 

Indeed, we feel that the real challenge of producing low-cost vaccines is upon us. We are surrounded by very smart people. Technology is ever advancing. There must exist simple solutions that can be brought to bear in vaccine manufacture. Innovation and frugality can go hand and hand. If so, then we must continue to seek novel ways to produce safe and affordable vaccines. As the world around us stretches its resources for survival, it becomes our moral duty to provide them cheap vaccines of highest quality, so people can lead healthy, productive lives. That is exactly what Challenge 66 taught us. 

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Hilleman Laboratories is a global vaccine research & development organization focused on making affordable vaccines using innovation to address gaps that exist in low resource settings. Hilleman Labs acts as a catalyst in bridging the gap between academic research and product development by targeting novel vaccines and increasing the efficiency of existing vaccines. Know More

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