Immunization can resume in Yolanda-hit areas with repair of cold chain
MANILA -- The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) will be turning over cold chain equipment to the Department of Health (DOH) in Tacloban City on Thursday.
Among those damaged by the typhoon is the cold chain infrastructure, a system used for keeping and distributing vaccines in a condition that retains its ability to give protection against disease.
The cold chain consists of a series of storage and transport links which are designed to keep the vaccine at the correct temperature until it reaches the user.
With most of the cold chains in the typhoon-affected areas destroyed, more than 1.8 million affected children are at risk of disease and death.
UNICEF and WHO are supporting the government to re-establish its national immunization program in typhoon-affected areas, by providing disaster-resilient equipment that can withstand future calamities.
UNICEF will provide 450 Department of Health (DOH) health care facilities with earthquake and typhoon-resistant cold chain equipment, including 5,000 temperature monitoring devices, 4,000 vaccine carriers, 800 cold boxes, 400 back-up generator systems, 150 ice-lined refrigerators, 50 solar-powered refrigerators and 200 Sure Chill freezers running on an innovative cooling technology, allowing them to operate for more than ten days without electricity.
Sixteen walk-in cold rooms for vaccine storage will also be constructed at regional and provincial levels. Three million doses of measles-rubella and oral polio vaccines will also be provided.
The equipment donation is budgeted at US$8 million.
Health workers were also trained to improve vaccine and cold chain management.
WHO delivered 16 solar-powered vaccine refrigerators to key points in Leyte within three weeks after the typhoon hit. This was to enable autonomous storage of vaccine stock replenishment from the DOH.
These refrigerators were supplied from the United Kingdom and flown directly to Cebu.
These self-contained devices restored the cold chain capability of some parts of Leyte, enabling the DOH to conduct mass immunization in late November.
A million doses of measles-rubella vaccine were also provided, along with mixing syringes and safety boxes, and two domestic refrigerators for use in Tacloban.
WHO also provided iceline refrigerators, icepack freezers, chest-type cold boxes, vaccine carriers, icepacks, 6KVA electric generator sets, and other supplies to key areas in earthquake-stricken province of Bohol.
Another shipment of 66 icepack freezers, 4,500 safety boxes, 88 cold boxes, 300 vaccine carriers, measles-rubella test kits and laboratory equipment, and temperature monitoring devices is expected.
As the lead agency in the Tacloban health cluster, WHO oversees the disease monitoring activities in the province to ensure prompt response to any brewing disease outbreak.
UNICEF and WHO plan to establish the cold chain first in the city and expand the program across the affected area.
“The needs on the ground remain great. The risk of disease outbreaks is ever present, and so far only half of affected communities have seen their health centers reopen,” said Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF Philippines Representative.
Both agencies will focus on supporting DOH in building capacity for primary health care for community health workers, and establish a mechanism for quick surge in local health capacity in future emergencies.
“The objective is to build capacity, reduce risks and increase resilience so all children can thrive today and stay confident for the future.” she added.
WHO Representative in the Philippines Dr. Julie Hall stressed the importance of building back better when ensuring that health infrastructure, which includes services, facilities, and equipment for the most vulnerable populations is present, as this is an essential step in guaranteeing healthy and capacitated communities.
“Exploring alternative technologies such as the use of solar energy, is a wonderful way of promoting resilience for these communities, considering that calamitous events such as Typhoon Yolanda can occur at any time. Ascertaining that such capability is in place is a positive way of placing health at the heart of healing for the communities in the Yolanda corridor,” Dr Hall continued.