Norah Magero, co-founder and chief executive of sustainable solutions company Drop Access, has designed the solar-powered VacciBox to chill vaccines and enable them to get to areas Kenya’s national grid has not yet reached.
But Magero didn’t set out to use her appliances to help people get jabbed. She says her “lightbulb” idea came when she was approached by Kenyan farmers to find ways to keep their milk from turning sour during transit.
After the coronavirus pandemic struck and vaccines became available in Kenya, the team realised that the cool box solved two problems in one: Not only could it store vaccines and keep them cool, it was small enough to be portable, and so could be used to transport vaccine vials to the most remote outposts while keeping them at the right temperature.
The concept was brought to life with the help of investors including RES4Africa Foundation and Startup Energy. Each 50 litre box holds up to seven vaccine vials or any medication that needs to be stored under cold chain technology – a vital infrastructure that protects the biological products in medicines that are time and temperature-sensitive.
The VacciBox can transport vaccines in two temperature ranges, between 2 C to 8 C for the AstraZeneca jab and down to minus 20 C for mRNA vaccines. It has a USB port for mobile phones and is small enough to be transported several kilometres on a bike or motorcycle.
Nominated by the Royal Academy of Engineering for their prestigious Africa Prize, the box maintains the cold chain for up to 10 hours and has a tracking device that monitors the thermal system to ensure the product arrives safely.
“I’ve seen people carry ice cubes in flasks to carry vials, so if they keep it overnight they’re in trouble,” Magero says. “It was all manual – and we wanted to reduce the manual data recording too, with traceability.”
To reach Maasai nomadic communities in Kenya, Magero says portability is the key factor: “Healthcare programmes should be accessible on the move. If a mother cannot access the vaccine when she needs it, she is likely not to come back for it.”
Sustainability is an important consideration for Magero and the focus for her organisation, Drop Access. With most of Kenya’s vaccination hubs relying on mains power, she is excited at the prospect of her fridges reaching further afield.
Beyond Kenya, she has orders for the VacciBox from Mozambique, Ethiopia, Malawi, Nigeria and India. The team is targeting new investors, such as Unicef, the vaccine alliance Gavi, and the Rockefeller Foundation.
“This is beyond me now,” Magero says. “I want Drop Access to diversify beyond just refrigeration. I hope to see other organisations coming in, partnerships with Unicef and the like, so that we get to achieve a bigger purpose – something beyond us. That is how I see our vision.”