It looks a bit like the coolers used to keep drinks fresh on a sunny day but the chill box being tested in sweltering Mozambique serves a higher purpose -- saving lives from malaria.
The new cool box is intended to keep malaria medicines at 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) or below in impoverished rural areas without electricity where temperatures can reach 45 degrees Celsius.
AdvertisementAs the world marks Malaria Day on Friday, its developers hope the cool box will help save some of the one million lives lost to malaria worldwide every year -- 6,000 of them in Mozambique alone.
"At the beginning, the cool boxes will be used to store malarial drugs such as the rapid diagnostics tests for malaria," said Parfait Komlan Edah, advisor to John Snow Incorporated, a US company developing the coolers.
"We will change the treatment pattern and procedure because the drugs are expensive and they have to be well preserved to be effective," he said.
The project, funded by the US Agency for International Development, started in 2006 and is still at an experimental phase. The coolers are currently being tested in three regions of Mozambique -- Maputo, Tete and Zambezia.
The tests will determine whether the coolers are adopted for use nationwide.
A report last year by the UN Children's Fund (Unicef) and the Roll Back Malaria Partnership found that supplies of new medicines and insecticide-treated bednets were helping prevent child malaria.
But in Mozambique, malaria is still the leading cause of death among children admitted to paediatric services and there has been an increase in cases of malaria in recent years.
Faced with the upsurge in malaria, Mozambique's health ministry last year decided to expand the use of rapid diagnostics tests for the disease that can give a result within minutes.
The only trouble was that diagnostics tests have to be stored at temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius or below and are currently only available in provincial hospitals that have refrigeration facilities.
"The project was faced with the dilemma of how to ensure quality products despite the hot, humid weather and lack of electricity common in remote health facilities," Edah said.
The solution was to devise "evaporative coolers" -- similar in size to a small refrigerator and made of aluminium, steel and burlap.
The coolers have a water tank at the top that is regularly refilled. When water evaporates from the tank it passes along wicks that stick out of the cooler, keeping the contents of the box cool.
The cooler project receives some of its funding from US President George W. Bush's President's Malaria Initiative, which also sponsors other initiatives such as mosquito nets and awareness programmes.
The initiative spent 18 million dollars (11 million euros) in Mozambique last year.
In a message on World Malaria Day, which is being commemorated under the theme "Malaria -- a disease without borders," the World Health Organisation (WHO) stressed the importance of national malaria programmes.
"We must recognise that the vision of eliminating malaria will only become reality through countrywide implementation of interventions," including through national health systems and community projects, the WHO said in a statement.
Nelson Nkini, head of Proserv, a Mozambican non-governmental group supplying mosquito nets treated with anti-malarial substances, said preventing the disease was cheaper than curing it because of the cost of medicines.
"Our appeal is to everybody living in rural areas, where effective medication is not available, to use treated mosquito nets to prevent the spread of the disease," Nkini said. "Prevention is cheaper than cure."
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