Photo Essay: Vaccine Access in Ethiopia’s Remote Danakil Desert


Photo Essay: Vaccine Access in Ethiopia’s Remote Danakil Desert

October 6, 2016

At Global Good, we draw on the power of invention to solve some of humanity’s toughest problems. Tonight, at Washington Global Health Alliance’s Pioneers of Global Health Awards Dinner, we’ll gather with other local development organizations to celebrate the tireless efforts of those in our own community who contribute to better health around the world. By inventing, developing and deploying commercially-viable technologies, we hope to advance their efforts.

Learn about one of these technologies and how it is helping a community in Ethiopia’s remote Danakil Desert to access vaccines. 

Last summer a team from Global Good returned to a remote health post in northeastern Ethiopia to observe how one of our products – the Arktek™ – is helping people in the region to access vaccines.           

Among others, the clinic serves a community of Afar nomadic herders.

Traditionally pastoralists, the Afar move from place to place in search of good grazing land for their goats, cattle and camels.

They primarily live in the Danakil Desert in northeast Ethiopia. Located hundreds of feet below sea level, the Danakil is one of the lowest and hottest places on earth. 

Many in the community we visited live in huts like the one pictured above.

The nearest hospital is a three-day walk away across a harsh and unforgiving landscape. The community’s only regular access to health care is this small rural clinic run by Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health in partnership with UNICEF.

Until recently, the clinic struggled to provide routine vaccination to their families. Vaccines need to be kept cool in order to remain viable, and with little to no electricity in the area to power a refrigerator, it was impossible to store the vaccines nearby. This left the group’s children vulnerable to diseases like measles and tetanus. Many did not survive past the age of five.

And this problem is widespread. Despite tremendous progress over the last two decades, according to UNICEF, close to a third of Ethiopian one year-olds still do not receive most of the routine vaccines they need.

In 2009, a team of Intellectual Ventures Lab scientists and our partners at Global Good set out to solve this problem. After five years of trial and error, they came up with the Arktek device. 

Arktek is a super thermos that can store a month’s supply of vaccines – approximately 300 vials – using ice packs for a village of 6,000 people in 100 degree plus heat, without electricity. Arktek uses thermal insulation technology – the same technology that has been used to protect spacecraft from temperature extremes while in space.

Today more than 200 Arktek devices are in use in clinics across Nigeria, Ethiopia, Senegal, India, Nepal and Fiji. In Ethiopia, the device was so effective that the Ministry of Health recently submitted an application to order an additional 1,500 devices.

One Arktek device is helping to give the children in this nomadic herding community a chance to survive and thrive.

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