Type 1 Diabetes is not a diagnosis any parent wants to hear, but in Liberia it’s devastating. Ellen first came to the clinic after having been diagnosed with “sugar problem” in Monrovia- she
had been living with family in Monrovia and going to school. Her parents brought her back home, to the bush, hoping we’d be able to treat her in Po River. The family showed us the medications she’d been place on at the clinic in Monrovia- oral anti-diabetics. What she needed was insulin which is only available in Monrovia. This family didn’t have the funds to carry her all the way back to Monrovia and re-seek treatment. We contacted our friends at Last Mile Health who let us know there was a diabetes program at ELWA, the Samaritan’s Purse hospital in Monrovia. Last Mile agreed to provide the transportation to and from ELWA for Ellen and her father, Barry. Jen called the Medical Director at ELWA to expedite her admission and to make arrangements for paying her medical bills.
The diabetes program at ELWA was a God-send. Not only did they have the insulin Ellen needed, but they put her on a special program that would provide the medication for free (insulin costs $25 per vial) for life. They even provided her with the syringes she would need to administer the medicine, a glucometer to check her blood sugars at home, and lancets to prick her fingers. However, during her stay her family decided against having her remain in Monrovia and chose to keep her home in Rivercess. They live in Gbabo Hill, a community with no electricity and, therefore, no ability to keep the insulin cold. We purchased a vaccine carrier (an ice box designed to keep vials of medicines/ vaccines cold for 48 hours) for transporting and storing her insulin. The ELWA program provided her with a six-month supply of Insulin, and Ellen and Barry returned to Rivercess. We arranged with the family to keep her insulin at the clinic in the vaccine refrigerator and provide ice for the carrier on a routine basis. Ellen’s father faithfully made the journey from his home in Gbabo Hill to the clinic every 2 days to change the ice in the carrier and ensure the insulin stayed cold.
We then started to research sustainable ways to store insulin in areas where there is no refrigeration. We figured there had to be a better solution than a vaccine carrier where you have to change the ice packs every few days. We found out that insulin doesn’t necessarily have to be refrigerated. Open vials of insulin can be kept cool- under 25C (77F)- for up to 30 days. In East Africa this can be accomplished simply by keeping insulin in clay pots. But we’re in West Africa where clay pots aren’t readily available. That’s when we discovered FRIO, a pocket designed to keep insulin cool for up to 4 days just by soaking it in water. As the water evaporates from the damp pocket it cools the insulin inside. Every few days the family just needs to re-soak it for a few minutes to maintain a cool enough temp. Now Ellen’s father just needs to come to the clinic once a month to get his daughter’s next vial of insulin. Barry is so grateful to be able to provide a safe and healthy home for his daughter.