Africa’s cold chain given new spark

Chanice Henry

A sustainable cold chain project has significantly boosted access to lifesaving vaccines for hundreds in Africa. 

Africa has experienced large jumps in the size of its pharmaceutical industry with 2013 seeing a $15 billion increase on the year prior. Public-private health partnerships are predicted to rise in frequency. The government has implemented controls and restrictions to stimulate domestic manufacture of pharmaceuticals and country specific labeling to minimize illegitimate pharmaceuticals.

Even still, access to medicines in Africa is in need of vast improvement.  

At Temperature Controlled Logistics Europe 2018 it was highlighted that annually millions of preventable deaths exist due to lack of adequate vaccine supply. Individuals may have to walk large distances to get to healthcare institutions. Once reached, there is still no guarantee that the clinic will stock the medicine needed or have the member of staff available to support the individual. 

As noted in Harvey Rubin’s session existing vaccine systems are unable to provide treatment to remove populations due to poor cold chain equipment – power outages and lack of reliable data, monitoring.

Want more? Infographic: Medicine supply in emerging markets: Africa

Cold chain equipment vs landscape

Climate control for medicine transport is critical with Africa holding the title for the world’s hottest continent. Rainfall is minimal. Temperatures can exceed 35°C  and do not descend below 25°C at night in its desert plains which cover most of the northern half of the continent. South and central Africa are populated with expanses of savanna and rainforest regions.

Africa’s landscape further complicates the task of transporting temperature sensitive medicines. Frank Peeters of Rotary Clubs for Development notes that  central Africa’s stubborn road conditions demand the use of 4x4s vehicles and draw out the time needed to cover its vast distances. For this reason, airfreight is often a key alternative.

Experts have noted have noted that in the Congo many are lobbying to ship pharmaceutical goods via the rivers as they pass through the majority of the country in the east-west direction and greatly complicate directly driving in the north-south axis.

Energy stability

Network and electricity supply in Africa is unstable. Frequent power outages coupled with poor cold chain equipment and data monitoring restricts the transportation of vaccines to remote populations.

The Africa Power Vision is looking at generating power from sustainable sources such as solar and wind energy.

At Temperature Controlled Logistics, Harvey Rubin presented the Energize the Chain’s sustainable solution projects for vaccine cold chains that have been initiated in Zimbabwe and Ghana.

These projects have co-located refrigeration sites with cellphone towers as they have a surplus of electricity. Also, these towers are locally managed, so responsible stakeholders can intervene to protect the controlled environment of the vaccines if necessary.

More than 300 units are operational in Zimbabwe, with over 500,000 vaccines transported through or administered onsite. The initial construction of 30 sites in Upper West and East Ghana has taken place.

These resource sharing projects have improved the productivity and health of local communities and have reduced the wastage of vaccines.

Infrastructure improvements such as these can reduce healthcare costs and foster economic growth.

Save your seat:  Cold Chain Global Forum Online - Emerging Markets Focus Day