VACCINE DEPLOYMENT IS A CHALLENGE IN THE THIRD WORLD WITH ITS UNRELIABLE POWER GRIDS AND ROADS.
WE NEED A SELF-SUFFICIENT DEVICE—A SUPER THERMOS—TO SURMOUNT THIS LACK OF INFRASTRUCTURE.
Most of the world’s focus on developing medicines and vaccines is aimed at rich people. Non-profit medical research is funded mostly by tax dollars—and rich countries prioritize their spending by what matters to them. For-profit medical research is even more focused on servicing the needs of those with higher incomes. Given the huge costs and risks of development, the thinking goes, why target customers with an income of only a few dollars per day?
The global R&D budget is vastly tilted the wrong way. But this is only part of the problem. Even when technologies have the potential to make a difference, deployment in the developing world often stumbles for lack of infrastructure. Therefore, the tricky question when you’re inventing for the developing world is creating the right level of technology.
Delivering vaccines to the developing world poses just such a challenge. The system required to deliver a vaccine is called the “cold chain,” so named for the set of facilities that keep a vaccine cold as it is distributed from the manufacturer to the people who need it. Like any chain, a cold chain is only as strong as its weakest link. In the industrial world, refrigerators work well, the grid is reliable, and hospitals have backup generators. In many parts of Africa and Asia, however, there is no power grid, and those that do exist are highly unreliable. The common method of vaccine delivery is to use a refrigerator or an ice chest. But in the developing world, $10,000 worth of vaccine can go bad because the $50 ice chest or $100 dollar refrigerator fails, perhaps for lack of only a couple dollars worth of electricity. When that happens the loss is worse than monetary: Children fail to get the vaccine and may sicken or die as a result.