Solar powered refrigerators protect vaccines in cyclone-hit Fiji

Image: UNICEFImage: UNICEF

The Australian government has funded a rollout of solar powered refrigerators and off-grid solar power packs to health centres in cyclone-ravaged Fiji to preserve life-saving vaccines and medicines.

When category-five Cyclone Winston swept across Fiji in February, it caused widespread damage to critical cold chain infrastructure and electricity services.

This led to a breakdown in essential immunisations for new-born babies and delivery of medicines across the island nation.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) provided USD $640,000 (AUD $870,000) to UNICEF Pacific to distribute 74 solar direct drive vaccine refrigerators to Fijian health centres, along with 17 solar power packs custom-made for local conditions.

Solar powered refrigerators vital public health priority

Vaccines must be stored in strictly controlled temperatures from point of manufacture to injection to be effective. The so-called cold chain temperature requirement for most vaccines is between 2-and-8 degrees Celsius.

Solar powered refrigerators in health centres in cyclone-ravaged Fiji preserve life-saving vaccines and medicines.Image: UNICEF

Image: UNICEF

UNICEF Pacific representative Sheldon Yett said global immunisation programs were the most cost effective and successful health interventions known to date, but cold chain equipment in some locations, particularly climate-vulnerable nations, was underperforming, or no longer ideal.

“This solution uses an energy source that never runs dry – the sun. It also provides a reliable cold chain for essential vaccines even in the most remote and disaster affected areas,” Mr Yett said.

In the past, Fiji was reliant on absorption type refrigerator units. The aged technology uses toxic liquids such as ammonia to cool refrigerant gases and was costly to operate.

“Solarisation” shores up immunisation programs in Fiji

Fiji’s Health Minister, Rosy Akbar, said the “solarisation” of healthcare services after the destruction wrought by Cyclone Winston was key to reviving the country’s national immunisation scheme.

“Ensuring the availability and efficiency of the cold chain infrastructure is a critical public health priority to protect new-born and infants from vaccine preventable diseases. It is imperative to the safety, efficiency and availability of vaccines, and the continuity of the immunisation program throughout Fiji,” she said.

The 17-solar power packs will be installed at isolated nursing stations across Fiji. They will allow the use of portable lights, charging of mobile phones and laptops, and provide off-site solar energy.

The Australian High Commission’s Counsellor Development Cooperation, Christina Munzer said,

“Australia is proud to have supported this initiative that we hope will make Fiji’s health system even more resilient to future disasters.”