According to sociologist Johan Galtung, structural violence occurs when there is a difference between actual reality versus potential reality. If the actual reality is unavoidable, then no violence is present. If the actual state of affairs is avoidable, then violence is present. Today, vaccines exist to prevent diseases such as measles, diphtheria, polio and tuberculosis, yet 2 million people from all over the world die annually from these conditions.

These deaths are not the result of a vaccine shortage, but rather are due to the inability to properly store the vaccines. In order to effectively prevent disease, vaccines need to be stored at very specific temperatures, controlled through refrigeration, from the time they are manufactured to the time of injection. This is typically described as the cold chain, and is difficult to maintain when traveling to more remote regions.

In an attempt to eradicate the structural violence, and in response to an outraged Sean Penn following the death of Oriel, a 15-year-old Haitian boy, by diphtheria, Harvey Rubin, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Pennsylvania, sought to address the problem. Rubin realized how prevalent cell phone towers were around the world and because in developing nations there are often blackouts, telephone companies often provide their own sources of power. After consulting engineer and mathematician Ali Jadbabaie, the two discovered that the power generated from these cell phone towers would be enough to power a refrigerator that could store vaccines. Moreover, the high frequency with which cell towers are distributed provides a chance to prevent the cold chain from breaking. Through delegating responsibilities to a larger team, spearheaded by undergraduate student Alice Conant, their efforts resulted in creating the nonprofit organization Energize the Chain.

Energize the Chain aims to form secure relationships with cell phone companies in order to increase the correlation between the number of cell towers in a given region and the successful preservation of the cold chain. They launched one of their first major projects in Zimbabwe in 2011. By pairing with cell phone company Econet Wireless, they were able to boost the number of viable vaccines that were distributed to 10 villages in Zimbabwe. Additionally, after partnering with the National Healthcare Trust of Zimbabwe, Energize the Chain was able to issue refrigerators that could stay cold for up to 10 days without power in order to maintain the precise temperature of the vaccines. There are currently 110 working sites in Zimbabwe and by December of this year Energize the Chain expects to install 100 more working sites.

By supplying these refrigerators to more rural regions of Zimbabwe, the partnership between Energize the Chain, Econet Wireless and the National Healthcare Trust of Zimbabwe provides greater accessibility to working vaccines. Moreover, the success in Zimbabwe provides the promise for expanding the program to other regions where high mortality rates are caused by an inability to receive necessary, lifesaving vaccinations.

– Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: Philly, Energize The Chain, Econet Wireless, JPR
Photo: All Africa

What Disney and Vaccinations Have in Common
Cryopreservation, the same technology that is rumored to have preserved the late Walt Disney, is being used to save lives in impoverished nations.

Roughly 50% of the vaccines intended for distribution in impoverished communities and other areas are discarded because of exposure to high temperatures. Getting medicine to communities such as these is difficult enough without the high cost of replacing compromised vaccinations. This is where Asymptote comes in.

Based in Cambridge, UK, Asymptote specializes in cryopreservation; that is to say, they specialize in keeping substances very cold to preserve them. Asymptote has recently been awarded a grant to begin developing extremely low-temperature storage equipment able to transfer live vaccines. The equipment is not only intended to aid in transferring vaccinations but also to increase the shelf life of vaccinations which require a temperature of minus 130 degrees Celsius for weeks at a time.

If successful, this would have a large impact on the distribution of vaccines in countries where electricity is unstable and access to liquid nitrogen is scarce. Needless to say, this applies to many developing countries that tend to have a large rural population such as those located in Africa and Southeast Asia.

In many countries where basic needs are not met, the community is forced to focus on these pressing issues just to stay alive. Providing impoverished counties with basic amenities such as vaccinations allows the people of the community to focus on economic and cultural stability. The effect of this type of stability is a reduction in poverty and the strengthening of the global economy.

– Pete Grapentien

Sources: Cambridge Network, Asymtote
Photo: Infosurhoy