We -virtually- sat down with Koolboks’ Chief Business Officer, Natalie Casey, and CEO, Ayoola Dominic, to talk about their freshest innovation: the Paygo-enabled “Kareboks solar vaccine freezer”, and how it aims to address some of the challenges associated with Covid-19 vaccine temperature demands at the last mile.
What are the most common challenges of solar-powered refrigeration regarding vaccine conservation and how do you plan to address these with your fridge?
Natalie: The main concern is ensuring that the temperature of the freezer doesn’t compromise the performance of the vaccine by being too low or too high. Moreover, the upfront cost is definitely another barrier, even for the solar-powered fridges today.
Ayoola: Indeed. The cost is huge for a pharmacy or a small hospital. For the public sector, there’s obviously a lot of funding going on, but it’s pharmacies who sell insulin, antivenoms or anti rabies, so they’re quite important as well. Maintenance is also key, as we’re dealing with products that are meant to be kept under specialised refrigeration, between 2 to 8 degrees Celsius. If it is too low or too high, it affects the shelf over time and people will take a product that is infected.
How does your fridge address those challenges?
Natalie: With the 24/7 refrigeration, we now have the possibility of working with off-grid or weak-grid customers by using solar technology and, with the maintenance and monitoring, we have a longer-term commitment to the product. When you have more of a service and have the remote monitoring, you can be sure that the equipment will be working well and maintaining its temperature as required. For the accessibility barrier, the answer is Paygo.
What happens then if the temperature goes outside of the required range?
Ayoola: There’s an alarm system in the refrigerator that calls up to 8 people, as soon as the temperature goes outside of that range. So if it goes beyond that, it will call your number and inform you that its temperature is running high. Clearly, that’s another big advantage. And in terms of maintenance, we will be there to ensure that the product works 24/7.
What would be the added value of a Koolboks solar vaccine refrigerator when compared to the competition?
Ayoola: Today in the health market, the available alternative is a refrigerator that freezes vaccines or products that sometimes goes off for the weekends and loses its efficiency. Therefore, the capabilities to monitor temperature 24/7 is one of the major assets of our fridge. We have an application that clients can download on their phones or laptops that enables them to see the temperature at any point in time. This information is also available on the freezer digital thermostat.
Natalie: The content of the fridge is greater in value than the fridge itself, but it’s an insurance for your stock to make sure that it stays intact, so definitely the remote monitoring along with the Paygo functionalities that PaygOps supports us with are the key benefits compared to the competitors. As far as we know, there are no others that are enabling this type of freezer with Paygo technology. It hasn’t been widely adopted because of the cost component, but luckily, the combination of solar energy now becoming more accessible and the payment modalities are aligning.
Different vaccines demand different temperatures. There are concerns about storage ability in some parts of the world, like Africa. Is the solar vaccine freezer able to withstand both low (-2 to 8°C) and ultra low temperatures (-70°C)?
Natalie: The most severe temperature requirement comes from the Pfizer vaccine. Even in the United States or in Europe, I don’t think that Pfizer is expecting all of the clinics and pharmacies to be able to store things at that temperature. They have special storage that they organise for the vaccination. However, that’s outside of what you would find in standard cold chain equipment.
For the others, we would definitely be able to store them without any problem, so now it’s really a challenge for governments to ensure that the full cold chain can be maintained once they start receiving the vaccines, from storage facilities to regional warehouses, along the transportation path and so forth, to finally deliver the vaccines to local clinics. It’s at pharmacies where our equipment would be most adequate.
Does the fridge meet the World Health Organization’s (WHO) criteria?
Natalie: WHO requires a pre-qualification, so we’re currently in a process of testing and providing those certifications to them. As it’s known, most of the public health authorities would purchase through the UN, but there’s an opportunity to already start working with local pharmacies that are privately owned to ensure that they’re ready for the vaccination campaigns.
How’s the pilot going so far?
Ayoola: So far, so good. We’re currently running pilots in Delta State, Nigeria and in Papua New Guinea. The solar vaccine refrigerator has a GPS to know where exactly the product is and it lets you go into further details, such as temperature measurement as well as battery monitoring over any period of time.
Taking into consideration the specificities of this fridge, how do you plan to address the installation/maintenance stages?
Natalie: We have distributors on the ground in different countries where we have our distribution operations, so they would need to be trained and qualified for the installation and maintenance. The Koolboks refrigeration freezers have a 3-year warranty and, during that time, if there’s any maintenance required, the distributor would be responsible for that. We also have in-house engineers who are trained and accustomed to working with solar products. Furthermore, PaygOps’ after-sales capabilities will also be a key piece, as it enables the communication between the end user and the customer service team to report any payment or maintenance-related queries.
How do you envision a last-mile management software such as PaygOps could help both distributors of your fridge and the end customers?
Natalie: The most practical use of the data is for “quality control” to ensure that the vaccines are kept at good temperature. The historical data from that can be used in a way to certify that the vaccines that have been distributed haven’t broken the cold chain. There’s an immediate value there. As we scale up, we would have the opportunity to understand our customers better in the way they’re using the products with the information that we collect.
What makes your technology so important to tackle the Covid-19 crisis at the last mile?
Natalie: Vaccines are required for everybody, what is unique is to try to vaccinate 1.2 billion people on the continent at the same time. What is done in some cases in areas that don’t have refrigerators, they organise a “vaccination day”. That’s usually the day the vaccine arrives in a regular cooler with some ice and they have to be administered that day otherwise they get lost. That’s where it is causing a lot of waste during vaccination campaigns.
About Solaris Offgrid:
Solaris Offgrid supports distributors of essential services to build strong customer traction and greater relations with investors through flexible and inclusive Paygo solutions, designed for last-mile operations. Adopting a bottom up approach in the design of its solutions and creating synergies with a strong network of partners to solve last-mile challenges, the company has already deployed Paygo solutions in more than 30 countries through PaygOps, Solaris Offgrid in-house software solution built “In the Field, for the Field” and its product development services. Leading reference in the off-grid solar market, PaygOps is engineered to deliver modular and interoperable solutions to address off-grid energy access challenges and distribution complexity. For more information on PaygOps, please contact [email protected].
Koolboks is a tech startup based in France, with an offshoot in Nigeria, that seeks to democratise the way the world experiences cooling. Their sustainable "kool" technology combines the power of the sun and water to enable off-grid solar refrigeration, accessible to individuals, small businesses, and health facilities, through innovative financing models such as cooling-as-a-service (CaaS).