KENYA—Drop Access, a healthcare startup based in Kenya, has developed Vaccibox, a portable solution to revolutionize the delivery and storage of vaccines, ultimately improving healthcare outcomes in underserved regions.

Vaccibox is an innovative medical refrigerator that is transforming vaccine and cold chain storage and transportation challenges in remote parts of rural Kenya in what many healthcare workers believe to be a game-changer.

After moving from Nairobi to her rural home, Norah Magero, co-founder, and CEO of Drop Access, experienced firsthand the challenges of accessing vital healthcare services, particularly vaccinations, for her newborn child.

When Norah relocated to her rural home, the scarcity of vaccines and the logistical hurdles involved in ensuring that vaccines reach healthcare facilities in rural areas became painfully apparent.

This is when she noticed that something had to be done and determined to make a difference, Magero, alongside her co-founder James Mulatya, embarked on a mission to revolutionize medical access in Africa.

The team realized the need to design a portable solution available for different modes of transportation that can keep items in cold storage while in motion.

Cold chain infrastructure is particularly important for vaccine distribution, too high or too low temperatures result in a loss of vaccine potency which cannot be regained or restored.

Mulatya explained that Vaccibox was therefore designed with the aim of addressing existing challenges as expressed by the users -healthcare workers for the last mile of vaccine delivery and storage.

With VacciBox, they can now transport vaccines to the immunization grounds without the worry of spoilage.

Mulatya added, “Vaccibox can be used for other medications that require to be refrigerated, such as insulin and oxytocin. It can also be used for animal vaccines as they also require refrigeration.”

According to Mulatya, Vaccibox has an internal capacity of 50 liters, adequate for a level 3 and below facility to store and/or transport about 3000 doses of vaccines.

Vaccibox can operate for 36 hours on a full charge of the battery before it needs to be connected to the solar panel. It can also be connected to grid/AC power enabling it to run throughout.

Besides vaccine vials, the Vaccibox is designed to transport and store blood, and other medications. It is lightweight and very easy to use thanks to its innovative Cool Skin cold delivery technology, it can be easily carried wherever you need it.

Vaccibox’s temperature is monitored and controlled automatically without requiring any input from the user.

Moreover, ensuring that the recommended temperature range is always maintained, and an inaccurate temperature setting cannot be accidentally set by the user.

Vaccibox pilot programmes

So far, the company has piloted the product in two hospitals i.e., Usungu Dispensary in Kibwezi West Sub-County, Makueni County, which is located 22km away from any electric grid, and Merrueshi Village Health Centre in Maasai Simba Camp and Conservancy, which focuses on maternity and newborn care.

According to Rachael Munyau, a nurse at Merrueshi Health Centre in Kajiado a remote village in Kenya, in the past, she says that she had to use other methods – like a cooler box filled with ice – to take vaccines to remote villages.

With VacciBox, she says that she can now transport vaccines to the immunization grounds without the worry of spoilage.

This has led to safe deliveries, reduced maternal mortality rates, increased immunization rates for children under 5 years of age and ultimately improved health due to reduced occurrence of vaccine-preventable diseases.

In Usungu dispensary VacciBox has enabled the dispensary to store more than 1,000 vaccines onsite, initially, the health facility ran biweekly vaccine transports to the dispensary and returned the supplies to the county hospital at the end of the day.

Through support from the Solar Energy Foundation, Kenya has purchased five Vaccibox mobile solar refrigerators and had them installed by Drop Access in these health stations, Isinya Sub-County Hospital – Kajiado County, Ngatu Dispensary – Kajiado County, Osarai Dispensary – Kajiado County, Kiloh Dispensary – Kajiado County, Ivoleni Dispensary – Makueni County.

In Isinya health center in Kajiado County, the 50-liter VacciBox refrigerator is making a difference in two main ways first, the 60-70 deliveries per month, and second, the number of vaccinations.

According to Amos a clinical officer at the facility, the Vaccibox allows over 500 children per month access to important vaccinations.

Vaccibox illustrates an initiative that acts locally and thinks globally

The vaccine cold chain gap in Kenya as well as in other African countries still needs some intervention to ensure vaccine equity.

Moreover, there is a long way to go to meet the energy and healthcare access gaps and Vaccibox will continue to play a role in this effort.

Drop Access is also constantly engaged in research and development to ensure that improvements on Vaccibox are made, and that the technology remains relevant in terms of meeting the cold chain gaps in Africa.

“Winning the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation by the Royal Academy of Engineering was both a humbling and exhilarating moment for the Drop Access team. It was such an honor to be selected as the winner because all the finalists in the competition were innovating great solutions across Africa,” Mulatya said.

The award gave the team confidence to continue our entrepreneurship journey, financial support for further product development, and much-needed exposure that led to us meeting other partners and clients.

One of the major challenges is that Vaccibox is yet to be prequalified by the WHO as a vaccine cold storage device.

“The WHO prequalification will enable us to sell Vaccibox worldwide,” Mulatya added.

Mulatya is optimistic about the future of the technology saying that Vaccibox is here to stay and that the vaccine cold chain gap in Kenya as well as in other African countries still needs some intervention to ensure vaccine equity.

“There is a long way to go to meet the energy and healthcare access gaps and Vaccibox will continue to play a role in this effort,” Mulatya concluded.

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