A refrigerator can save a life: improving the supply chain to protect African kids

April 25, 2016 by Brian Atuhaire

A woman holding a child stands in front of buildings and a low mountain range.

Lagudi Alice from the Sironko District holds her baby at the Bunaseke Health Center in the Mt. Elgon ranges of Uganda. Photo: PATH/Brian Atuhaire.

How do we ensure lifesaving vaccines are available in remote, off-the-grid clinics? One answer: go solar.

This post is part of the #ProtectingKids story roundup. Read all the stories here.

The Bunaseke Health Center in the remote Mount Elgon ranges of Uganda went two years without a refrigerator. That might seem unremarkable to some, but clinics need refrigerators to keep many vaccines cold and potent. A refrigerator can save a life.

Without a refrigerator, health workers had to carry a limited supply of vaccines in a special carrier from over 40 kilometers away, and it was difficult to keep the vaccines at the right temperature to preserve their potency, causing frequent stockouts. This meant some new mothers were discharged without their newborns receiving tuberculosis and polio vaccines, and children visiting the clinic went unvaccinated. Because of the rough terrain, many families did not return.

However, when Lagudi Alice recently brought her two-month-old son to the remote clinic, the baby was able to get the vaccines he needed to protect him against serious and life-threatening illnesses like pneumonia, diarrhea, and meningitis. That’s because today, a new solar-powered refrigerator at the Bunaseke facility has radically changed the stakes. Health workers can offer daily immunization services on which mothers can depend.

Innovations like the solar-powered refrigerator are helping save the lives of more children each day. They are a vital part of health supply chains: the network of staff, equipment, vehicles, and data needed to get vaccines safely from the manufacturer to the health clinics and eventually to the people who need them most.

African leaders step up to improve the supply chain

In Uganda and across Africa, we are seeing health leaders commit to reach every child with vaccines.

At the First Ministerial Conference on Immunization in Africa earlier this year, 180 health leaders—including policymakers, immunization experts, and stakeholders—gathered to highlight the need to invest in improved, next-generation supply chains. This video captures their commitment to strengthen these systems.

Next-generation supply chains fundamentally shift the way vaccines are managed and delivered to communities. They employ the latest refrigeration and monitoring technologies, and they reflect new strategies for transport, management, and data tracking.

A woman leans over a large, open, chest-style refrigerator.

Grace Wanyenzi, the clinical officer in charge at the Bunaseke Health Center, stocks the new solar refrigerator. Photo: PATH/Brian Atuhaire.

African leaders recognize the importance of immunization and the role supply chains play in reaching every child. One in five children still lacks access to all basic vaccines, and leaders understand that innovating and improving the supply chain will ensure that vaccines reach children in remote places like Lagudi Alice’s village.

Learn why next-generation immunization supply chains are needed to fulfill global health goals.

Progress underway

With the new solar fridge, the Bunaseke clinic has been able to stock enough vaccines to serve the community’s needs throughout the month. The inflow of mothers for immunization has exponentially increased, says Grace Wanyenzi, the clinical officer in charge.

A child receives a vaccination while his mother holds him.

Lagudi Alice holds her baby as he’s being vaccinated. Photo: PATH/Brian Atuhaire.

While much progress has been made, there is more work to be done. Innovations and improvements to the supply chain should happen at every level, from refrigeration technologies to transport, management, and data tracking.

Access to lifesaving vaccines is a right. We must hold our leaders accountable to make this happen.