Off-grid Solar Powered Vaccine Cooler Keeping Children in Remote Areas Healthy

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A solar-powered refrigerator developed in Denmark is helping doctors and staff at health clinics in Kenya’s Rift Valley store and keep critical vaccines fresh and children vaccinated against diseases such as Hepatitis B, according to an AlertNet news report by David Njagi.

The off-grid, solar powered coolers are the fruit of research and development begun back in 2001 by the SolarChill Project Partners. The Danish Technological Institute, which had been working on developing a solar-powered refrigerator that didn’t require batteries, joined with Danish refrigerator manufacturer Vestfrost to design and build a prototype, with the Danfoss Company adding its expertise to develop a direct current (DC) hydrocarbon compressor.

With funding from Greenpeace International, the first SolarChill Vaccine Cooler prototypes were built and demonstrated in 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. A second generation went into one-year field tests beginning in 2004 in Cuba, Indonesia, Senegal and Denmark.

The off-grid, solar-powered refrigerators are now up and running in Kenya’s Rift Valley, where they are helping health clinic staff and local communities keep critical vaccines fresh and children vaccinated against potentially fatal diseases.

“It was very difficult to get my children vaccinated because of the distance I had to travel to access the health center,” mother of six Margaret Kipoe told Njagi. “When they did arrive, “the nurses would tell us that there were no vaccines available because of storage problems.”

Doctors at a health clinic in Iloodokilani are now able to vaccinate 60 to 100 babies a day, according to one nurse.

The SolarChill vaccine coolers generate between 150-160 watts of voltage, enough to freeze ice packs kept inside once the sun sets. Maintaining temperatures of between 2 degrees and eight degrees Celsius, vaccines can be kept fresh between two and eight days on a single charge. The 20-liter coolers have a lifespan of around 20 years.

Eliminating the need for batteries is a key aspect of the technology. Off-grid coolers have been used in remote, rural areas of Kenya and other countries for years, but they relied on using kerosene or propane, which is difficult to obtain at times, as well as posing health hazards and environmental threats.

“SolarChill does not use storage batteries or electricity but is powered by energy absorbed directly from the sun,” Thomas Mbithi, a biomedical engineer working for Total Hospital Solutions in Nairobi told Njagi. “The technology is ideal for remote areas, he says, and more than 20 units have now been installed in Kenya’s arid areas, particularly northern Kenya and the Rift Valley.”

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