How packaging innovation revolutionised medicine distribution and saved lives in Zambia

Amcor packaging innovations are revolutionising aid and medicine distribution, including in Africa. This year, the company will donate one million of the flexible packets it has designed for a charity helping sick children in Zambia.

16 January 2018

Product development manager, Peter Ettridge, describes how Amcor’s partnership with UK charity, ColaLife, is saving lives.

Every day, Amcor experts are developing and enhancing packaging to better protect products and make modern life more convenient. They are also helping to solve some of the world’s most complex problems and saving lives.

Through our partnership with UK charity ColaLife, Amcor packaging specialists are helping to get life-saving treatments to children suffering diarrhoea – an illness that takes a child’s life every minute.

2008: ColaLife begins

While working in Africa in the 1980’s, ColaLife’s founders Simon and Jane Berry saw that bottles of Coca-Cola could be bought from every village shop, yet one-fifth of children under five were dying from dehydration caused by diarrhoea. Rural health clinics and remote communities simply didn’t have access to the anti-diarrhoeal drugs they desperately needed. 

In response, they came up with the Kit Yamoyo – meaning ‘kit of life’. The single-use kits treat unwell children with oral rehydration sachets mixed with water to replace fluids, sugars and salts, and zinc sulphate tablets to reduce the duration and severity of diarrheal episodes. 

Simon and Jane knew that effective distribution was key, so they approached Amcor with a request: could we create innovative packaging that would easily integrate into the existing soft-drink supply chain, and also help to measure the water to mix the medicine?

2014: Innovation and expertise

ColaLife was using an amorphous polyethylene terephthalate (aPET) container that could be packed in the empty space among bottles. Amcor’s flexible packaging team donated time and resources to develop a breathable, sealable and peel-able film lid for the containers to protect the medicine. The packaging was waterproof, tear-proof and tamper-evident, with pressure release functionality thanks to the application of Amcor P-Plus perforations.
ColaLife’s original aPET packaging was enhanced by Amcor
Image: ColaLife’s original aPET packaging was enhanced by Amcor
The benefit was immediate: in the first 12 months, 26,000 kits were distributed in two rural areas in 12 months. The pack won six international awards for health and design innovation, and representatives of several countries expressed interest in replicating the product. 

However, the planned distribution approach – kits slotted between soft-drink bottles – wasn’t happening on the ground. Instead, the small retailers running village shops simply tied a bag to their bike to transport the kits to sick children in their communities. 

The Amcor team saw an opportunity to redesign the packaging to drive down cost while still achieving the end goal: getting medicine to sick children.

2015: The perfect time for product iteration

Amcor’s packaging experts worked with ColaLife to design a second-generation pack that was flexible and used Amcor’s PushPop packaging format. With the same functionality as the lidded aPET container – tamper-proof packaging that doubles as a clean measuring vessel to dose 200ml of water – the new format was 20 percent of the original cost with five times greater supply chain efficiency.
Flexible Kit Yamoyo packaging, developed and donated by Amcor
Image: Flexible Kit Yamoyo packaging, developed and donated by Amcor

Retailing at less than US$1, the kit became even more affordable and, in 2015, Amcor donated 870,000 flexi-packs to ColaLife.

Normally, when you see a PushPop on the shelf, it’s expanded to a three-dimensional shape, but we designed the ColaLife version to move along the supply chain in a virtually flat form. The kits are easily collected and transported by people making the journey from regional warehouses and distribution centres to rural villages.

It’s all about using appropriate technology and design for the environment you’re operating in, and together with ColaLife, our packs won the Resource Efficient Pack Award at the UK Packaging Awards in 2015.

Mother and child, with the government-distributed version of the kit. Chinsali Urban Clinic, Chinsali District, Zambia
Image: Mother and child, with the government-distributed version of the kit. Chinsali Urban Clinic, Chinsali District, Zambia

2018: Plans for the future

The partnership has already achieved great outcomes: wherever the kit is available in Zambia, via clinics or shops, the number of children with diarrhoea receiving the recommended treatment has increased from less than 1 percent to over 40 percent.

Amcor recently donated $10,000 to ColaLife to help get treatments to more Zambian children. In pilot studies in urban, slum and rural areas, uptake has been very good. Kits are now available in supermarkets in Zambia and are used by the government health service. ColaLife is in discussion with NGOs to roll out the Kit Yamoyo model to other African countries.

Amcor continues to innovate and, in 2018, we’ll launch a new version of the flexible pack. Maintaining the strengths and materials of the PushPop pack, it has been redesigned to remove the top gusset and meet new regulatory requirements. 

Being involved in ColaLife’s projects has helped us to demonstrate packaging’s potential for social benefit.  In 2018, Amcor is producing one million packs in the new format to be donated to ColaLife so they can work with manufacturers in Zambia and other African countries in 2018.

Amcor’s sustainability leadership

Amcor boosts the impact we have by leading and participating in global collaborations, including as a core partner in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative, an active member of the Trash Free Seas Alliance, and as the packaging partner to the UN World Food Programme. You can learn more about Amcor’s commitment to sustainability here.

Peter Ettridge
Product Development Manager, Technical Specialties