Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Plastics Continue to Solve Serious Health Problems in Africa

Every person in the plastics industry can take pride in how plastics are solving some of the problems that for so long have afflicted people in many parts of Africa. A simple example: Put impure water in a plastic bottle, leave it in the sun about six hours, and the UV rays purify the water.

Here are two other noteworthy plastics-based solutions to African problems, one as simple as the plastic bottle water purification, the other an ingeniously creative life saver.

The simple first: “Plastic Bags to Keep Premature Babies Warm” is the headline of a short New York Times article whose hero is the plastic bag erroneously considered a villain by many. A study of newborn babies in Zambia showed that a technique practiced in the USA, swaddling premature babies in sterile plastic wrap to keep their body temperatures from dropping dangerously, can be copied in poorer countries using plastic bags similar to grocery bags.

Water evaporates rapidly through the thin skin of premature babies and that can lead to life threatening heat loss. The study published in the journal Pediatrics showed that wrapping babies in plastic bags and then in a blanket was better at keeping babies warm than a blanket alone, with no instances of overheating or skin rashes.

The AidPod medicine packages fit in the spaces between Coca-Cola bottles

The AidPod medicine packages fit in the spaces between Coca-Cola bottles for travel to remote African villages.

Now the creative solution: The U.K.-based design firm pi Global, recently won the Diamond Award, the top honor at the 25th anniversary edition of the DuPont Awards for Packaging Innovation, as well as the Special Food Security Award. Pi Global developed the AidPod package for ColaLife, an independent non-profit organization (NGO) that works with The Coca-Cola Company’s distribution network to bring medicines into remote areas of Africa.

A Eureka moment came to Simon Berry, a former British aid worker in Zambia, when he realized that he could get a Coca-Cola virtually anywhere, yet one in seven children were dying from preventable causes before turning five, most from dehydration due to diarrhea. Berry founded the ColaLife organization and is now its CEO.

The AidPod is purpose-designed to nest between the bottles in Coca-Cola crates (see photo), thereby gaining a ride to remote villages for life-saving medicine it carries. Pi Global created a package that is also a functional part of the kit, both as a measured-dose mixing container and a drinking vessel. Early in the AidPod’s development, according to Berry, plastics were selected over cardboard for barrier properties, light weight, and the ability to design in the dosage-measuring water cup.

The AidPod package took top honors in DuPont's Packaging Awards 2013

The AidPod package took top honors in DuPont’s 2013 Packaging Innovation Awards.

In presenting the Diamond Award, William J. Harvey, President of DuPont Packaging & Industrial Polymers, pointed out that the awards originally sought to champion collaboration as a critical component in innovation. “Twenty-five years later … it’s clear that collaboration remains central to bringing innovation to market,” he said.

A blog post by plastics journalist Doug Smock on the PlasticsToday website details more of the AidPod collaboration: pi Global “…designed a patented wedge-shape, vacuum-formed container made of 80% recycled PET, the plastic used as virgin material in soda bottles. Other partners joined the effort. Charpack makes the container and lid; Amcor Flexibles produces P-Plus perforated peelable film to seal the pack closed; and Packaging Automation makes the machinery that heat-seals the film to the AidPod.”

Coca-Cola is generally considered the most recognized single brand in the world, and thanks to the company’s distribution skills, you can find a cold one pretty much anywhere in the world. The AidPod has the potential to improve world health on a large scale. Pretty impressive for a plastic package made mostly from recycled PET (polyester terephthalate).

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