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Unique ‘Boat Clinic’ Reaches 2,500 Remote Islands

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India has made rapid economic progress over the last decade and this has placed an enormous demand on health care delivery and an efficient medical cold chain is indispensible for delivering quality healthcare in remote corners of the country. Besides ensuring expansion, the need of the hour is to embrace the latest technologies in the medical cold chain which has been evolving over the years.

Millions of temperature-sensitive medical supplies, such as vaccines and blood, are discarded due to improper storage or management practices. Over 28 lakh units of blood have been discarded by hospitals and blood banks in India over the past five years. Seven lakh units have been discarded over the past year alone.

The World Health Organisation has reported over 50 percent wastage of vaccines around the globe due to temperature excursions and improper storage within the supply chain.

These temperature-sensitive life saving supplies must be stored at a precise temperature throughout the cold chain to retain their potency, which is extremely challenging especially in a low-resource setting with unreliable electricity, poorly maintained equipment, and long distances between facilities.

Many of the medical supplies lose their effectiveness when exposed to extreme heat or freezing conditions. This not only leads to expensive loss and reduced healthcare delivery, but it also poses serious health risks to patients.

SELCO FOUNDATION is a social enterprise which works on projects creating inclusive development pathways that are socially and environmentally sustainable. It strives to inspire and support champions of sustainability across the world. Godrej Appliances, an enabler for sustainable and efficient medical supply storage solutions to the last mile, is associated with SELCO for a novel cause.

The Boat Clinic

The mighty Brahmaputra River, which flows through Assam, has around 2,500 islands inhabited by 2.5 million people, who get affected by annual floods caused by the river during monsoon. This vulnerable population is prone to water-borne diseases. But acute soil erosion makes infrastructure development near to impossible on these islands, leaving thousands to fend for themselves due to inaccessibility of medicines and other healthcare facilites.

In 2004-05, the Center of North East Studies and Policy Research (C-NES), an NGO committed to create infrastructure in healthcare, education and other areas of governance in the North-Eastern states of India, launched and built AKHA. It is also described as ‘A Ship of Hope in a Valley of Flood’—a unique boat clinic to provide mobile health services to the poor and the marginalised on the islands in Dibrugarh district.

The focus: Immunisation of children, pregnant women and new mothers as well as treatment of vulnerable adult groups.

The concept won a World Bank Award for innovation aimed at bridging rural gaps. Since its inception, the programme has been expanded to cover 13 districts of Assam with a total of 15 boats operating along the river. It is being supported by National Health Mission, Government of Assam, under Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode since 2008.

In 2017, the Jorhat boat clinic was installed with a Godrej medical refrigerator with support from SELCO Foundation, to provide a reliable solution for storage of vaccines/medicines required for an extended journey. The results were encouraging, enabling longer journeys and greater coverage per trip. In one ideal trip, the boat would leave Jorhat and travel for a minimum of seven days, setting up medical camps on the various islands before returning.

Post this success, in 2018 another boat, The Tinsukia Boat Clinic, was equipped with Godrej medical refrigerator.

The vaccines and other temperature-sensitive medical supplies are required to be stored precisely between 2 to 8 degrees Celsius for them to be effective. Surge or drop in temperatures would render the costly vaccines unusable. Godrej Appliances got the opportunity to provide a solution to this challenge with their medical refrigerators that are powered by a UK patented Sure Chill technology. These refrigerators are solar powered and provide precise 4-degree cooling, the ideal temperature to store vaccines. But what makes these refrigerators most relevant to the boat clinic is that they maintain the right temperature inside the cooling chamber for up to 10 days – even without power.

Highlighting the thought process behind this association, Jaishankar Natarajan, Product Group Head of Godrej Medical Refrigerators, says, “Innovations are at the heart of every Godrej appliance and we constantly endeavour to provide our customers with thoughtfully made products that provide a relevant solution to their needs. Our medical refrigerators are able to keep temperature sensitive medical supplies, like vaccines and insulin, effective despite high ambient temperatures and inaccessibility to electricity and we are humbled to have had the opportunity to be a part of this noble lifesaving initiative.

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