5 min. read
Keeping vaccines cold when you’re delivering them to the most remote places on earth is a tough challenge. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has come with quite a creative and innovative solution for that challenge, I must say. Read on if you want to know how the Indigo Cooler is able to save people’s lives.
In this blog I wrote about how Coca Cola is able to reach people on the remote places on earth with a simple coke. Melinda Gates argues in her talk on Ted that Coca Cola is doing a pretty good job in that and that her strategies can be used for not for profit projects like vaccine delivery as well.
Viruses like Covid-19 or Ebola are quite complex to either understand, let alone solve. I’ve tried many times to understand how it evolves, spreads and extinguishes. That’s not easy and there are many challenges. Group immunity is often the keyword to success and vaccins are a way to fight those viruses. In the case of Covid-19 we don’t have a vaccin yet. But in the developing world we can find many more challenges to fight health issues. One of them is to keeping vaccins cold when you try to deliver them on the remote places on earth.
Keeping vaccines cold
It all started with Papa Blandine Mwey, who worked as a vaccinator in Congo for more than a decade. The story goes that she travelled by foot to villages all over the region so she could vaccinate kids who lived too far from a health clinic to make the trip themselves as it is nearly 5,100 miles away.
As a result, the vaccine delivery is quite a challenge for her, since she and the health clinics have to keep these vaccines in the right temperature range through each step of the “cold chain”. Many health clinics where vaccinators like Blandine pick up the vaccines are located in areas with frequent power outages or no electrical grid at all. And even if the vaccines survive the clinic, they still need to make it to the children. This is also a challenge since ice-lined coolers start tot melt soon.
No ice, no batteries and no power
So a couple of years ago, Bill Gates and his foundation requested some inventors of Global Good to change the game for vaccinators like Blandine.
As a result, in 2015 the inventors came up with two game changers: de MetaFridge and the Indigo cooler. Both keep vaccines at the right temperature – which is between 2 °C and 8 °C – for at least five days with no ice, no batteries, and no power required during cooling. This cold chain marvel was invented at Nathan Myhrvold’s Intellectual Ventures Laboratory and thanks to this Global Good’s invention it’s easier now to keep those vaccins at the right temperature. Here’s Bill Gates explaining the process of the vaccine delivery:
What causes the magic
It may sound counter intuitive, but the vaccins cooler needs heat before you can use it. When exposed to a heat source, water inside its walls evaporates and moves into a separate compartment. It can then sit on a shelf for months after heating, ready for use.
Although the MetaFridge looks like a regular refrigerator, the technology has a hidden super power: it keeps vaccines cold without power for at least five days. The electrical components are designed to keep working through power surges and brown-outs. During extended outages, an easy-to-read screen tells you how much longer it can stay cool without power, so that health workers know when to run a generator or to move vaccines elsewhere. And if the fridge stops working properly, it transmits data remotely to a service team so they can fix it before vaccines are at risk of spoiling.
Aside from the MetaFridge, the other innovation Global Good invented is the Indigo cooler, which is the device you see Blandine using in the above video. It keeps vaccines at the right temperature for at least five days with no ice, no batteries, and no power required during cooling.
There’s no doubt the Gates Foundation is making a profound impact on global health with these kind of initiatives. The sheer scale of its charitable giving is astonishing. It’s the largest philanthropic foundation in the world, with an endowment worth $42.9 billion — roughly double the GDP of Uganda.
The Indigo cooler is just one of the many initiatives introduced by the foundation and is still in the field trial phase. It’s still early, but the data suggests that the Indigo is allowing vaccinators to reach four times as many places as they could with the old ice-based coolers. That’s a big deal, and I’m excited to learn more.
I hope MetaFridge and the Indigo cooler inspire other inventors to find creative solutions like these. If you like to do something back, they have a section on their website to donate. The minimum donation amount is 10 dollars, so they have made it accessible to many people. Let me know if you already heard of this invention and what you think of this initiative in the comment section below.
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