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UNICEF and Government of Japan boost 'cold chain' for immunization in Mauritania

© UNICEF Mauritania/2011
UNICEF Representative in Mauritania Catherine Mbengue highlights partnership with the Government of Japan during a 13 July ceremony handing over cold-chain equipment for preserving vaccines.

By Brahim Ould Isselmou

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania, 18 July 2011 – Thousands of children in this West African nation lose out on crucial vaccinations because there isn’t enough equipment to store the vaccines and drugs. In an effort to improve immunization coverage, UNICEF last week delivered ‘cold-chain’ equipment comprising 118 units of refrigerators and freezers.

The delivery comes at a critical time. Last year, immunization rates in the country dropped by 40 per cent because of dysfunctions in the cold chain – the temperature-controlled chain of equipment that stores and preserves pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines.

The sharp drop in immunization coverage occurred just as Mauritania was in the final stages of eradicating polio and controlling measles. The country’s large, sparsely populated territory and harsh weather conditions have added to the challenge.

Handover ceremony

Delivery of the cold-chain equipment was part of a Government of Japan-UNICEF joint programme to strengthen child survival and development systems in order to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals by their 2015 target date. The handover of the equipment took place at an official ceremony on 13 July attended by Minister of Health Ba Housseinou Hamady, Ambassador of Japan Hiroshi Azuma and UNICEF Representative in Mauritania Catherine Mbengue.

© UNICEF Mauritania/2011
Ambassador of Japan Hiroshi Azuma, Minister of Health Ba Housseinou Hamady and UNICEF Representative in Mauritania Catherine Mbengue inspect cold-chain equipment at a UNICEF warehouse.

Ms. Mbengue noted that more than 46,000 children up to 11 years of age could not receive the three required doses of pentavalent vaccine against five infectious diseases due to cold-chain problems in 2010. The problem prompted UNICEF, in cooperation with the Government of Japan, to provide the government with the new equipment.

“The success of any vaccine programme is dependent on the soundness and continuity of all the links in this chain,” said Ms. Mbengue.

Strong partnership

The Government of Japan funded cold-chain equipment in 2003 and 2004, but the system had not been upgraded since then. Now, there is a renewed commitment to get the expanded programme on immunization (EPI) – which covers vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio and tuberculosis – back on track toward the MDG targets.

“Japan decided to contribute substantially to the cold-chain supply and storage, in partnership with UNICEF,” said Ambassador Azuma, “in order to deliver safe and quality vaccines, and to reach every child in every remote area and region.”

This growing partnership is helping UNICEF to fill gaps and complement its interventions, which focus strengthening the EPI, overhauling the cold chain, and maintenance and capacity-building in immunization services.

© UNICEF Mauritania/2011
Ambassador of Japan Hiroshi Azuma renews the commitment of his governement to work closely with UNICEF to promote child rights in Mauritania.

“Partnership leveraging and enhancement is a priority for our government, in order to improve the health status of the population in general, and especially women and children,” said Minister of Health Hamady. “We will take every necessary action to ensure the quality of our vaccines and use this cold chain efficiently to foster our immunization programme.”

Progress towards equity

The immunization partnership in Mauritania covers a wide spectrum involving UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the Government of Japan and other and multi-lateral and bi-lateral partners. “This cold-chain equipment is timely, as we are in the process of fostering our EPI and our materials are dilapidated, if not out-of-service,” said Dr. M’Bareck Ould Houmeid, the EPI National Coordinator.

The programme funded by the Government of Japan with $2 million in 2011 has contributed to strengthening capacities within the EPI, tackling malnutrition, promoting essential family practices at the household level and providing supplies to schools and child-protection institutions.

Reinvigorated by this support – and by UNICEF’s commitment to an equity-based approach targeting the poorest and most disadvantaged children and families – the organization is scaling up its child-survival strategy to reach the hard-to-reach in every Mauritanian community.



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