Loadshedding and your medicine


Loadshedding is disruptive for everyone, especially for those who depend on temperature-sensitive medicine or electricity-dependent medical devices. Here are tips to keep your medicine cold and your medical devices powered up during blackouts.

Loadshedding will unfortunately be around for the foreseeable future. Planning what measures to put in place when the power goes out will help mitigate some of the potential harm caused by loadshedding.

Here's how to keep your medicine cool

Many health conditions are managed with temperature-sensitive medicine. For example, insulin, which is used to manage diabetes, needs to be kept below a certain temperature to remain effective. If exposed to extreme temperatures or temperature changes, this medicine, and others like it, can break down and become less effective. This can be dangerous for the person who needs it.

Read the package insert that comes with your medicine for specific details about the correct temperature for storing it. Consult with your pharmacist or doctor if you have any questions. Tips for keeping temperature-sensitive medicines cold:

  • Do not open your fridge after losing electricity unless it's absolutely necessary. This will prevent temperature fluctuation. A closed fridge will stay cold for up to three hours without power.
  • If your fridge is no longer cool, you can store your medicine in the freezer for another two days, provided you keep it closed or sealed. Put your medicine back in the fridge section as soon as the power is back. It is important that your medicine doesn't freeze. When it's in the freezer, make sure it doesn't directly touch any ice. Consider unplugging the freezer so the medicine doesn't freeze if you miss the power coming back on.
  • For extended outages, put dry ice in a container along with your medicine and put it in your freezer.
  • Put your medicine in an insulated cooler bag or lunch box, with ice packs. Wrap the vials or ice packs in a tea towel so that they are not in direct contact with each other. This will prevent freezing. Put your cooler bag in cool spots in your home or office that are not in direct sunlight. Keep several ice packs in the freezer so you can rotate the melted ones out for frozen ones if you are expecting more than one session of loadshedding in a day. You can ask your pharmacist for an ice pack for your medicine.
  • If you have access to a small, portable camping fridge that can be plugged into your car, this may be suitable to use on the odd occasion when you have no other options.
  • There are cooling cases and stainless-steel thermoses on the market, designed specifically for keeping medicine at a consistent temperature. Ask your pharmacist if these are suitable for storing your medicine.

More information about insulin
You can use insulin in opened or unopened vials that have been stored between 15°C and a maximum of 30°C for up to four weeks. This means you might be able to keep your insulin outside of the fridge if the temperature doesn't exceed 30°C.

If, for some reason, you need to use insulin that was stored at a temperature higher than 30°C, be sure to monitor your blood sugar levels frequently. This is because the insulin might not work as effectively anymore.

How people are keeping their medical devices powered up

Loadshedding has also been stressful for those who use medical devices that need electricity to operate. Some of these include ventilators, oxygen concentrators, continuous positive airflow pressure (CPAP) machines and nebulisers.

Unfortunately, most alternative power sources for people using these devices are expensive. Some people have resorted to buying spare batteries for their devices, or buying portable battery-operated devices where possible, and some have bought or rented additional oxygen cylinders. However, doing this can be quite expensive, too. In some cases, battery-operated options, such as portable oxygen concentrators, are not suitable for all patients, such as those who have severe respiratory incapacity.

Some people have opted to install inverter, battery, and even solar back-up power at their homes -also costly options for the most part - to ensure a continuous power supply. Others have resorted to using their car battery to charge portable devices.

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