Using Solar Fridges to Raise Immunization for Haitian Children
Thanks to Gavi, solar refrigerators installed since 2017 ensure larger vaccination coverage
Ghislaine Etienne is a happy woman. For the past year, the mother of three has never missed an immunization session for her children. Partly, thanks to …solar refrigerators!
“I have no more excuses for missing a vaccine,” explained the resident of La Suisse village, in the Nord department. “The meeting point where our children are vaccinated is ten minutes away on foot, whereas before it used to take two to three hours to go to the nearest hospital.” She clarified. As with Ghislaine Etienne, the arrival of solar refrigerators in Haiti has simplified the lives of hundreds of thousands of Haitian parents and children, with a tangible effect: caregivers can now be as close as possible to the beneficiaries to give children the necessary jabs to keep them healthy.
Today, around fifty mothers and their children are gathered in the little chapel of La Suisse village by the mobile team of New Hope Hospital, a benchmark institution since 2017 in the northern part of Haiti. Institutions like New Hope Hospital are known as “assembly points”, established each week in a more remote locality of the department. “We no longer have any breaks in the cold chain,” said departmental nurse Rudhnie Angrand. “Thus, the vaccines are kept at a constant temperature between 2 and 8° Celsius and are therefore of very good quality. Clearly, this allows us to get closer to the populations to improve our vaccination coverage.”
Like every week, three nurses from the New Hope Hospital take dozens of doses out of the solar fridge. Eugène Lumide and his two colleagues then place them in a cool box and ride a motorbike to go vaccinate. “Introducing solar energy in vaccination is a revolution,” says Derline Mentor, UNICEF cold chain officer, with more than 30 years of experience in the field of immunization.
“Before, fridges were gas or kerosene powered. It was extremely expensive not to mention logistics and repair when they break down” she added. As a result, the vaccines were of lower quality because very often the cold chain was not guaranteed. But the old fridges could not compete with "free" solar energy. “In addition, these refrigerators are intelligent,” Mentor explained. “We can control their temperature from a distance.”
The solar energy technical teams have not been idling, and US$7 million from Gavi (80%) and UNICEF (20%) have saved lives. “In 2017, vaccination coverage was 73.6% in the North. At the end of 2018, we were 86%!” Mentor noted. In less than three years, more than 850 solar refrigerators have been installed throughout the Haitian territory. “We have more than 350 left to install by June 2020 to allow all Haitian children to be vaccinated.” A dream and a goal for Derline Mentor who added that “once these 350 fridges are installed, I can retire with peace of mind.”