Broken by Typhoon Haiyan, the cold chain gets up and running again
By Thomas Nybo
The system of transport for temperature-sensitive vaccines – already fragile before the storm – was severely disrupted when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines last November. Now UNICEF is helping to restore the cold chain and ensure the routine immunization of children.
TANAUAN, Philippines, 11 April 2014 – Dylin Cortez was nine months pregnant when Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines. As the storm surge rushed into the house she shared with her husband and six children, the water quickly rose up to her neck.
“I thought I was going to deliver the baby, because my stomach was stiffening,” says Ms. Cortez. “I prayed, ‘God, please don’t let my baby be born today.’ I’d rather die quickly than let my baby go through all this.”
They managed to escape the house before it collapsed. They found some bamboo sticks, constructed a makeshift raft, and held on for dear life.
“My husband drowned for a few seconds because he was hit by a big log in the stomach,” Ms. Cortez says. “When he recovered, all of us were now holding onto the bamboo sticks, and we floated for three hours. All of us were praying very hard. I was praying that if it was our time to die, I’d rather have it quickly than let my family suffer.”
The whole family survived. She gave birth six days later to a healthy girl, Juday.
“Today, I went to the municipal health center to get my baby vaccinated,” says Cortez. “It’s very important for my daughter to get injected with vaccines so she can be protected from various sicknesses, and so she can avoid having polio and measles. That’s why I took her there.”
Along with Cortez’ house, many health clinics were destroyed. The cold chain, which protects temperature-sensitive vaccines, was often disrupted. One of UNICEF’s earliest efforts following the typhoon was to restore the cold chain, and keep vaccines cool so they don’t spoil.
“The idea behind the cold chain is to maintain an optimal storage for the vaccine from the manufacturer to the end user,” says UNICEF Health Specialist Dr. Maria Bella Ponferrada.
At the health clinic in Tanauan, UNICEF and its partners provided a solar-powered refrigerator that can withstand power outages. It’s part of an $8 million effort to restore the cold chain and enable routine immunization in affected areas. Along with providing solar-powered refrigerators in 50 health centres and a backup generator for the region, UNICEF has deployed supplies to field locations and has trained health workers to improve management of the cold chain.
“The cold chain was not really optimal before the typhoon, and so during the typhoon most of the equipment and the vaccines were destroyed,” says Dr. Ponferrada. “There are two problems, actually. The first one is the sub-optimal cold chain even before the typhoon. Then after, the typhoon it made it worse.”
UNICEF’s work in restoring the cold chain and making it more resilient in the future will translate into increased coverage of routine vaccinations, which in turn will help protect the children of Dilene Cortez and, over the coming years, millions of other children in the Philippines.