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'Life-saving rollout' of solar-powered refrigerators transform health care around the world: 'There's been quite a lot of innovation in the space'

The life-saving impact these devices can make is immeasurable.

The life-saving impact these devices can make is immeasurable.

Photo Credit: iStock

Solar-powered refrigerators are the latest innovation that will play a key role in the ongoing fight against malaria.

As explained in Reuters, a "life-saving rollout" of two approved malaria vaccines in Africa are being made possible because of fridges powered by solar panels. The report noted that "thousands" of these devices are available across sub-Saharan Africa and are "ready to serve as the workhorse of the malaria vaccine rollout."

According to UNICEF, malaria causes 608,000 deaths per year, with Africa accounting for 95% of them. One of the two approved vaccines, RTS,S, has already made a huge difference in the Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi last year, with 1.7 million children receiving at least one dose of the shot. 

Cameroon will be the first African country to begin administering doses of RTS,S this year, with 11 more countries to follow. R21, the second vaccine, received approval this past December and "is expected to prevent around 75% of malaria episodes when given seasonally in high-risk areas," per Reuters.

Whereas early designs for solar-powered fridges from 30 years ago faced the issue of relying on batteries when solar power was unavailable, innovations have led to the development of ice-lined fridges powered by solar energy.

"When the sun is shining, the solar panels generate electricity that is used to make ice," Reuters explained. "Then, at night or when solar power is unavailable, the ice keeps the fridge cool without electricity."

Danish manufacturer Vestfrost has created fridges that last for almost 115 hours, which innovation manager for cold chain equipment Claus Cording said is "more than enough in almost every area around the world." Also, Wales-headquartered SureChill said 30,000 of its solar-powered fridges are being used in 75 countries.

"There's been quite a lot of innovation in the space over the last decade or so, which has really helped to solve some of the problems we had historically," said Alex de Jonquieres, the director of health system strengthening at Gavi, which is a public-private partnership body involved in global vaccination campaigns.

These devices are costly, as it was noted that prices range from $1,000 to $6,000. However, the life-saving impact they can make is immeasurable.

De Jonquieres added that Gavi is taking the first step of exploring the possibility of using solar panels to provide electricity to vaccine storage facilities, in addition to fridges. The company has a "pilot program" in place to test this plan in nearly 1,000 facilities in four countries.

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