Logistics

A Nano cool device to take vaccines to remote areas

Updated on: May 26, 2013

One of the major challenges in rural healthcare programme is preserving vaccines in the right temperature, especially in power-deficient villages.

The efficacy of the vaccine depends on maintaining it at a specific temperature before administering it. For years, vaccines are preserved in ice-boxes, transported to the remote areas. Some efforts are on to use solar power to refrigerate and maintain vaccines.

Now, a new innovation — a Nano cool device — promises to address the cold chain gaps in vaccine delivery by improving the preservation, transportation and delivery of important vaccines to people in remote and rural areas in Asian and African regions, is round the corner. Hyderabad-based Sathguru Management Consultants and North Carolina-based RTI International have come up with a battery-operated thermoelectric container.

The concept is based on a technology that RTI International has been using over the past decade to cool lasers, electronics and medical devices. The portable container can be tweaked to the requirements of preserving and transporting vaccines in a safe and effective condition from the manufacturer to the recipient, says Rama Venkatasubramanian, Director of RTI’s Centre for Solid State Energetics.

The thermoelectric container has the potential to provide an alternative to replace Styrofoam and plastic boxes with ice packs that are widely used to transport vaccines, especially in Asia and Africa. It is compact, light weight and a move-and-store container.

In immunisation programmes, storage and handling vaccines is the key.

Lapses can cost in thousands of dollars in wasted vaccine or reactivation.

The joint innovation got a grant of 100,000 Canadian dollars (about Rs 55 lakh) from the Grand Challenges Canada, funded by the Canadian Government, which support innovations in health. The developers believe that their solution will empower health workers with a product that can provide active cooling in the WHO mandated norm for a period of 24 to 48 hours.

Cost-effective

The current solution used for vaccine movement is very basic. The cool boxes using traditional cooling gels are simple, but not very efficient in temperature control. “The Styrofoam boxes and passive cooling technology used at present is 50 year-old. While ice packed boxes are a cost-effective solution, they offer no method to regulate the temperatures in the box and vaccine loss is a widespread problem. Moreover, the short life of ice packs limits the length and efficacy of vaccination camps,” says Pushpa Vijayaraghavan of Sathguru.

Sathguru and RTI aim to provide a technologically efficient solution at a comparable cost. The cost of ice boxes (currently being used) ranges from $10 to $250. Against this, a thermoelectric container may initially cost to $100. However, they believe that the cost could come down to $50 or less on higher volume.

Given the efforts focused on optimisation of battery life, these companies expect the operating cost to be comparable to the current solution.

However, the economic cost comparison would be incomplete without considering the savings anticipated in reduction of wastage of vaccines and increase in efficacy of vaccination camps, they said.

Sathguru and RTI propose to do field trials in India in live vaccination camps to establish product feasibility in conditions of high heat and continuous open and closure of vaccine cooler during use.

The field trials will also be used to collect more feedback from health workers who will be using the vaccine coolers.

>somasekhar.m@thehindu.co.in

Published on March 12, 2018

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