The Optimist Citizen

Techies design a wearable vaccine storage device to ensure safe last mile delivery to rural India.

Manipal-based Blackfrog Technology’s flagship product Emvolio uses rapid cooling technology to reduce the wastage of vaccines in the last-mile delivery.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caught us unawares. With a surge in cases and hassled immunisation drive, India is grappling to ensure safety for its citizens. While we are running short of vaccines to inoculate individuals, many of them get wasted due to numerous reasons. According to the Immunization Technical Support Unit (ITSU) of the Indian Health Ministry, about 25% of vaccines get wasted every year. A Manipal-based startup, Blackfrog Technologies, has come up with its flagship product to combat this challenge head-on. Founded by Mayur Shetty and Donson Dsouza in 2015, this startup addresses the need for efficient vaccine storage and transportation.

The Future of Medical-Grade Refrigeration

Emvolio is a portable medical-grade refrigerator system unit for the last mile delivery of vaccines. It’s an effective affordable vaccine storage device that solves the gap due to lack of infrastructure in remote areas. It runs on the patented solid-state cooling technology and provides preset temperature for the vaccines.

Portable Vaccine Storage Device - Emvolio
The Portable Vaccine Storage Device can be carried around like a bag pack

Mayur Shetty shared, “The temperature-sensitive vaccines must be essentially stored between two and eight degrees Celsius. But, ice boxes do not sustain this optimal temperature for longer periods and vaccines are freeze-sensitive.” This poses a bigger challenge especially when the vaccines are to be administered in remote areas where the system is not robust. Emvolio aims to bridge this gap by maintaining the requisite temperature. As a result, vaccines lose their potency thus leading to their wastage. Additionally, it takes a toll on human resources as immunisation drives have to occur frequently.

How Does it Work?

The battery-powered device stores the contents at the surrounding temperature. It utilises proportional integral derivatives to maintain the precise temperature. Mayur explained, “Every time the lid opens to retrieve the vial, the vaccines get exposed to the ambient air. The in-built rapid cooling technology helps bring the cold chamber back to the required temperature.” It ensures no hot/ cold spots appear in the chamber. Thus, preserving the efficacy of the vaccines and reducing wastage. It also has other features, including IoT based temperature monitoring, location tracking, checking battery health, live tracking, and displaying vial status using advanced analytics. It can easily transmit this information to the government centres and smoothen the immunisation drives.

Vaccine Storage Device - Emvolio - Manipal
Emvolio – The Vaccine Storage Device in Use

Mayur also revealed how his product has an added advantage over conventional iceboxes. He said, “When the vaccines are left unused in the ice boxes at the end of the day, they are thrown away. They cannot be brought back and stored.” However, Emvolio guarantees 12+ hours of accountable cold chain supply management. Thus, the unused vials can be brought back, refrigerated, and then reused the next day. Emvolio weighs 5.5 kg and has a capacity of 2 litres. Mayur shares, “One can wear it like a backpack and carry around 50 vials at a time. This is enough to inoculate around 300 people in a day.” The ease of charging and convenience further keeps it out of the league. After a full charge, it can easily run for anything between 12-15 hours. The solar-powered device can greatly contribute to immunisation in villages that face erratic power supply.

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The Way Forward 

Shetty and Dsouza began working on the concept of building a medical-grade refrigeration system for biological samples in 2017. However, the pandemic compelled them to tweak it and design it exclusively for storing the COVID-19 vaccines. Mayur candidly explains, “In a country like India, we need repeated immunisation visits due to poor cold chain supply management.” Blackfrog’s product is aiming at reducing the economic burden of wasted vaccines and optimising human resources in vaccine delivery. It is completely leakage resistant and does not have motors, compressors, and refrigerants. Priced at 54,000, Emvolio aims to improve the healthcare system with its competitive efficiency and performance.

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Blackfrog is focusing on serving the rural areas currently. They have already tied up with hospitals and NGOs in rural areas of Karnataka and Jharkhand. They are looking forward to ramping up the production of the device and serving urban areas in future. “Our primary goal is to improve the future of medical-grade refrigeration. We would be pivoting our technology to address the gaps of cold-chain supply management in different sectors,” said Mayur.

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