United Nations Children’s Fund otherwise UNICEF has hinted its engagements in getting COVID-19 vaccines to West and Central Africa.
Lately, the rate at which the virus is rising is alarming and a new variant has been detected among passengers who arrived at the Kotoka International Airport.
The President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo noted in his 22nd COVID-19 address that they are undergoing treatment.
According to UNICEF, getting these vaccines from manufacturers to countries is a mammoth task. It not only requires that airlines have enough space to transport them, but also that the vaccines are kept at a stable, cold temperature from the moment they leave the manufacturer until they are administered. Ensuring the facilities needed for this are in place – known as the ‘cold chain’ – is a critical part of UNICEF’s current support to governments before COVID-19 vaccines arrive.
“West and Central Africa is one of the most complex environments you will find,” says Jean-Cedric Meeus, UNICEF’s Chief of Supply for the region. “We are dealing with the challenge of delivering COVID-19 vaccines to major cities, but also to extremely remote villages. We are preparing for all scenarios.”
Since 2018, UNICEF – working alongside governments and with support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance – began buying and installing solar-powered fridges to store vaccines throughout the region. The idea would be a gamechanger for regional and district health workers who often struggle to carry out routine immunisations for children in places with unreliable electricity and cold storage facilities.
“We mapped where the necessary equipment was missing and then set about installing almost 20,000 solar-powered fridges, all the way from the coast to the forests in the interior. It is a huge asset to have countries equipped like this and we will continue to roll them out,” says Jean-Cedric.
The fridges are suitable to store vaccines that require temperatures of 2-8°C, and with several COVID-19 vaccine candidates in this range showing promise, they will be crucial in governments’ COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts throughout 2021. It is just one element of UNICEF’s continuous support to health ministries on routine immunisation activities in a region where 11% of the world’s children live.
Making sure cold storage facilities are in place from manufacturer to where they will be administered is one big piece of the COVID-19 vaccine delivery puzzle. Another is ensuring that airlines dedicate enough space to transport them across the globe. UNICEF has stepped up its planning with the airline industry for this moment, but it can also rely on the lessons learned from a large-scale vaccine supply effort in the early days of the pandemic.
When the impact of COVID-19 became clear in early 2020, the UNICEF Regional Office for West and Central Africa, with governments and partners, began a stocktake of the number of vaccines needed for routine immunisations in the region. The concern was that after countries introduced travel restrictions and airlines began grounding planes, the entire region could be left short of vaccine doses – leaving millions of children at risk of diseases such as measles and polio.
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