|© UNICEF Nepal/2003/Guichard|
|Employees at a vaccine store in Nepal prepare an inventory.|
NEW YORK, 8 March 2005 - Vaccines protect three-quarters of the world’s children against childhood diseases every year. If they are not properly stored and handled, there is a risk that they will lose their potency or, worse, be rendered entirely useless.
"Vaccine management practices are not at the optimum level. When vaccines are damaged at the center level or expired you put the whole immunization program at risk. We assume that children are immunized but we don't develop any immunity in the society,” explained Dr. Umit Kartoglu, Technical Officer of the World Health Organization.
To help ensure the integrity of global vaccine supplies , the World Health Organization, in partnership with UNICEF, developed the “Effective Vaccine Store Management” initiative, which encourages countries to follow specific guidelines for equipment management and training practices.
Instituted in 2004, the programme is based on ten key criteria set by health experts at the World Health Organization in Geneva. Each participating country must meet minimum standards in all areas of vaccine management, including vaccine arrival procedures, storage, shipment and transportation, and distribution. The countries are monitored for a period of twelve months and rewarded with a certificate if they meet at least 80% of the new standards.
Out of 23 countries evaluated so far, two have received certificates; the Sultanate of Oman and the Republic of Moldova. But according to Dr. Kartoglu, many others have shown promising signs of progress.
UNICEF participation is integral to the programme. “UNICEF provides the vaccines. We also provide the coaching equipment that is needed, and we also fund the training courses that are part of vaccine management. The WHO sets the standards and the norms, and also helps develop the training material. In that sense, both agencies are very complementary,” explained Dr. Ahmed Magan, Senior Advisor, UNICEF Health Section.
|© UNICEF South Africa/2003/Kartoglu|
|Trainees learn about vaccine distribution by playing a board game.|
The initiative has brought about innovative changes in the way field personnel are educated. Training sessions are more hands-on and incorporate such offbeat teaching tools as a ‘Monopoly’-type board game. In some countries like Dr. Kartoglu’s native Turkey, the “Vaccine Management on Wheels” version of the training programme takes students on local sightseeing tours. Parks, restaurants, and even pools are turned into improvised classrooms. “The key is to make it fun,” said Dr. Kartoglu.
Besides training, the initiative calls for significant changes in the management practices of primary vaccine stores, since that is where vaccines first arrive and are most susceptible to being mishandled or improperly stored. Stores are instructed to provide sufficient cold storage and to keep vaccines at very specific temperatures.
|© WHO Turkey/2004/Gokhan Gurses|
|Exposure to heat can damage vaccines. The recommended storage temperature is 2 degrees Celsius.|
“When vaccines are exposed to heat, in time they will lose their power, but the biggest danger in terms of temperature is the risk of freezing because when a vaccine is frozen it is damaged,” said Dr. Kartoglu.
These measures are in keeping with UNICEF’s commitment to global immunization. “UNICEF is the largest procurer of vaccines in the world. Therefore, it’s a major interest of UNICEF to ensure that those vaccines are not only regularly supplied but that they are also safe to use,” added Dr. Magan.