A global leader in vaccine supply
“Vaccines are by far our most important commodities. UNICEF meets around 40 per cent of the global demand for children’s vaccines. In 2003, UNICEF procured 2.5 billion doses of vaccine for nearly 100 developing countries.” — UNICEF Supply Division Deputy Director, Stephen Jarrett.
To get a vaccine from the laboratory to a child in a remote village requires coordination between international organizations, governments, vaccine manufacturers and local communities. UNICEF is involved in many steps along the way: working with governments, donors and recipient partners to secure funding; coordinating with manufacturers to forecast vaccine needs and guarantee supplies; purchasing and transporting vaccines; training health workers and galvanizing local communities to bring in children for immunization.
UNICEF has advocated for the childhood right to health and protection from disease since its founding in 1946. In this role, it has appealed to governments to make vaccination a top priority and has helped poor countries to finance immunization. UNICEF has been supplying vaccines since the late 1950s. The volume of vaccines has increased dramatically over the last several decades to the point where today UNICEF supplies around 40 per cent of the global supply of vaccines for children.
Given its significant role as a supplier of vaccines, UNICEF has become increasingly involved in analyzing global vaccine needs to guarantee an uninterrupted supply to the countries that need them most. Because vaccines take at least one year to produce, UNICEF works very closely with manufacturers to track the production and availability of vaccines in order to avert shortages.
“Since there are not always roads leading to the villages, we often have to walk for many hours and to climb mountains and hills in order to reach the women and children in our target group.” — Khamsone Chantara, health worker, Luang Namtha district, Laos.
Transporting vaccines across the globe demands precise logistical coordination. Many vaccines must be stored at temperatures between two and eight degrees Celsius, or they may spoil. Keeping the vaccines cool is referred to as “maintaining the cold chain.” Often the last leg of the journey can be the most difficult. Roads may be marginal or nonexistent and cold store containers must sometimes be strapped onto horses or transported via camels, using solar panels to provide power to keep the vaccines cool. In some cases, the final destination may be a village without refrigeration or electricity.
In countries where children have been unreachable because of civil conflict, UNICEF, along with other UN partners and the UN Secretary-General’s Office, has negotiated temporary cease-fires among the warring factions. These “Days of Tranquility” give vaccinators safe access to children. When natural or manmade disasters strike, UNICEF works with partners to coordinate emergency vaccination campaigns to prevent epidemics.
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