In order to strengthen the cold chain system of the country’s Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Sierra Leone, with the support of GAVI, today handed over two vehicles and cold chain equipment at the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.
The two vehicles will be used to strengthen the national management and supervision function of the EPI program through regular monitoring and supervision visits at the service delivery level. The vehicles will also support other essential elements of effective health care delivery, including surveillance, logistics, and improve outreach programs to reach children with essential services.
Cold chain equipment, which includes 11 sets of larger solar refrigerators, each with a storage capacity of 220 liters and which will support the establishment of district vaccine stores in Falaba and Kerene, 171 sets of solar refrigerators to be installed in health facilities across the country and 260 coolers, will help ensure that vaccines remain potent and effective at all levels.
“The pandemic has reduced routine immunization coverage rates, putting children at greater risk. We appreciate UNICEF’s contribution to strengthening immunization coverage to increase childhood immunity levels in Sierra Leone, ”said Dr Austin Demby, Minister of Health and Sanitation.
Handover of cold chain vehicles and equipment is timely as in December the country reported the first known cases of circulating vaccine-derived type 2 poliovirus (cVDPV2). At present, there are a total of 14 confirmed cases of cVDPV2 in the country.
According to data collected and released in 2020 by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Gavi and the Sabin Vaccine Institute, the provision of routine immunization services has been significantly hampered globally by the epidemic of COVID-19. The healthcare delivery system is overloaded, responding to the current outbreak of COVID-19, while some children have gone back on their immunization schedules as some parents have not been able to leave home due to movement restrictions , for a lack of information or because they fear being infected with the COVID -19 virus.
“It remains very important for children and babies to keep their immunizations up to date, even during this time when we are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said UNICEF Representative Dr Suleiman Braimoh. “Immunization is essential to protect our children and build safer communities free from harmful vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio, measles and tetanus.”
Donated cold chain vehicles and equipment will be immensely useful as the country plans to conduct a series of immunization campaigns in 2021, including a new oral polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2) campaign in response to the polio epidemic, routine vaccination catch-up campaign, human papillomavirus (HPV) catch-up campaign and deployment of the COVId-19 vaccine.
With support from GAVI, UNICEF worked to provide continued support to Sierra Leone’s EPI program, including strengthening effective vaccine management practices, engaging communities to create demand for vaccines, providing refrigerators solar panels for vaccine storage and purchasing and delivering vaccines, including peak COVID-19 period, when most airlines were not operating.
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