India is a country with extremes of climate, with the temperature varying from winters near zero in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand to sizzling 50o Celsius summers in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and so on. Under these circumstances, maintaining the quality of blood for transfusion, blood components, vaccines and other biological substances becomes a challenging task. Because these substances, blood in particular, has to be stored within the temperature range of 2-8oC at all times, despite variations in weather, power outages and others hazards.
This problem is not unique to India but also applies to Africa, the Gulf countries, Latin America and other parts of the world. According to one estimate, almost half of all the vaccines for all diseases that are sent to the various tropical countries are weakened or destroyed because of failure to maintain proper temperature and humidity conditions.
Another recent study from Duke University showed that as many as 151 million vaccines, doses valued at approximately $750 million, are lost annually due to improper refrigeration in developing countries. The consequence of this in terms of large swathes of the population who remain exposed to various preventable infections is quite difficult to calculate!
So what is the remedy? The only way to avoid this massive wastage of vaccines and other materials, as well as the consequent vulnerability of people is to install refrigeration devices in their thousands in as many as hospitals, dispensaries, blood banks and medical establishments as possible.
This much is known. Apparently about 50 companies in India are involved in manufacturing and supply of cold chain equipment. But almost all of them are focused on food and agriculture products while pharmaceuticals and biological materials form just about 4 per cent of the total refrigeration business in the country.
Besides, whether these companies have the capacity to maintain the required temperature range despite major breakdown in power supply or even in places where planned load shedding is in force, is very doubtful. This is where Godrej Appliances appears to score over its competitors. With the help of its technology from SureChill UK, its collaboration partner, Godrej has come out with a range of products that can solve this problem.
The Godrej GVR Lite Series of refrigerators come in various sizes from just 51.5 liters to a massive 225 liters, and these can continue functioning for three or four days at a stretch without getting any power supply. This is a huge benefit in the rural and semi-urban health centres where power outages happen almost on a daily basis.
“In the smallest size, that is 5.5 liters, we can store 54 bags of blood for transfusion, while the largest size can accommodate as many as 165 units,” says Jaishankar Natrajan, Head of Medical Refrigeration, Godrej Appliances. He also mentioned that his company planned to manufacture the equipment at its factory in Vikhroli, a Mumbai suburb, and supply them in several other countries apart from India.
While the smaller sizes are priced between Rs 70,000 and 90,000, the largest size would carry a tag of Rs 5 lakh. At the moment, however, they were not offering any financing options but would examine these if there was a substantial demand.
Dr Sumit Ghoshal is a professional journalist with an MBBS qualification and almost three decades of experience. He has been writing all along on health issues in various mainstream publications and is currently a Contributing Editor with Business India magazine.