Solar power keeps vaccines cool in rural Haiti
By Thomas Nybo
Solar-powered refrigerators harness the power of the Haitian sun to keep life-saving vaccines chilled for children.
ROSSIGNOL, Haiti, 3 May 2013 – Suzette Beliard has been a community health worker in this rural town for seven years. Today, like on many days, she’s preparing to give children vaccines and drops of vitamin A.
As pedestrians make their way down the main dirt road alongside motorcycles and horses, Ms. Beliard sets up a table in an open space and unpacks her medical supplies and registration book. By the end of the day, she will have treated 60 children.
It is a tight-knit community, and many families depend on the local rice fields for economic survival. The irrigation canals that cut through the land serve as a reminder of the role farming plays in the community.
Electricity and gas shortages
As in much of rural Haiti, there is no reliable electricity in Rossignol, which makes it difficult to keep certain vaccines refrigerated, such as the polio vaccine that Ms. Beliard routinely administers to children. Gas refrigerators are one way around the problem of power outages, because they don’t need electricity, but getting the heavy gas tanks delivered over great distances presents another set of problems.
“The old refrigerators used gas, and sometimes the vaccines would go bad because we ran out of gas,” Ms. Beliard explains.
In response, UNICEF has installed a solar-powered refrigerator at a nearby health centre, one of 153 solar refrigerators intended to support UNICEF’s efforts to immunize Haiti’s children against preventable diseases.
Vaccines always available
“The solar refrigerator is very important, because it means the vaccines are always available,” says Ms. Beliard. “[W]e always have vaccines available for children.”
UNICEF is the largest buyer of vaccines in the world, procuring vaccines that reach more than one in three of the world’s children. Last year, UNICEF purchased nearly two billion doses of vaccine and more than 500 million syringes, and UNICEF and its partners supported immunization programmes in more than 100 countries.
Successful and cost-effective treatment
Immunization is one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions. It averts an estimated two to three million deaths every year in all age groups from diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and measles.
Along with the affordable technology of solar refrigerators, the vaccines are an extremely cost-effective way to support better health in communities like Rossignol – protecting a child for life against measles, for example, costs less than US$1.
Among the young mothers in the growing crowd at Ms. Beliard's table is L’aurore Veneuse, the mother of three young children. She earns a modest living buying rice in bulk from local farmers and reselling it in one of the town’s markets. Ms. Veneuse is here today to bring her son up to date with his vaccinations.
“The vaccines are very important because they protect my children against polio, measles and other diseases,” she says. “I always get my children vaccinated.”