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Vaccines and immunization equipment to benefit children affected by Typhoon Yolanda

Tacloban City Councilor Cristina Gonzales-Romualdez and Department of Health representative Dr. Paula Sydiongco lead the cutting of the ribbon during the formal turnover of immunization equipment to the Philippine Government

MANILA, 20 March 2014 — Rebuilding the cold chain infrastructure, which was severely damaged by Typhoon Yolanda last November, has been a shared priority for the Philippine Government, the United Nations Children's Fund, (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

When Typhoon Yolanda struck, Leyte and Eastern Samar were among the hardest hit areas, with Tacloban City bearing the brunt of the damage. Health care infrastructure was severely damaged; and cold chain equipment and vaccines were destroyed.

Cold chain is a system used for keeping and distributing vaccines in a condition that retains its ability to give protection against disease. The cold chain consists of a series of storage and transport links, which are all designed to keep the vaccine at the correct temperature until it reaches the user, namely children and mothers in need of immunization. With most of the cold chain in the typhoon-affected areas being destroyed, more than 1.8 million affected children are at risk of disease and death.

UNICEF and WHO are supporting the Philippine government to re-establish its national immunization programme in Yolanda-affected areas, and make it disaster-resilient, providing equipment that will be able to withstand future calamities.

UNICEF, through funding by The European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) and Australian Aid, will assist 450 Department of Health (DOH) health care facilities at different levels by providing them with earthquake and typhoon resistant cold chain equipment; including 5,000 temperature monitoring devices, 4,000 vaccine carriers, 800 cold boxes, 400 back-up generator systems, 150 ice-lined refrigerators, 50 solar-powered refrigerators and 200 Sure Chill refrigerators running on an innovative cooling technology, allowing them to operate for more than ten days without electricity. Additionally, 16 walk-in cold rooms for vaccine storage will be constructed at the regional and provincial levels, supported by three million doses of measles-rubella and oral polio vaccines. Based on in-depth assessment of short term requirements for routine immunization in affected regions, the equipment donation is budgeted at US$8 million.

Mothers and their children attend the formal turnover of immunization equipment to the Philippine Government at the Sagkahan District Health and Birthing Centre in Tacloban City, Philippines.

WHO together with UNICEF has also trained health workers to improve vaccine and cold chain management.

Within the third week of this crisis, WHO delivered 16 solar powered vaccine refrigerators to key points in Leyte to enable autonomous storage of vaccine stock replenishment from the Department of Health's warehouses. These refrigerators were supplied by DFID (Department of International Development) U.K., and flown directly from Oxfordshire to Mactan International Airport in Cebu on board a Royal Air Force C17 transport jet. From Mactan, WHO logisticians transported the solar powered refrigerators to Tacloban via a Korean Air Force C130 transport. Even without electric power or generator sets, these self-contained devices restored the cold chain capability of some parts of Leyte, thereby enabling the DOH (Department of Health) to conduct its mass immunization effort in late November.

WHO also provided a million doses of measles/rubella vaccine for the DOH program, along with AD mixing syringes and safety boxes, and two domestic refrigerators for use in Tacloban. As the power outage caused by the storm also affected the cold chain of earthquake-stricken Bohol province, WHO provided key areas with necessary equipment such as iceline refrigerators, icepack freezers, chest type cold boxes, vaccine carriers, icepacks, 6KVA electric generator sets, and other supplies. 

Still in the pipeline from WHO are 66 icepack freezers, 4,500 safety boxes, 88 cold boxes, 300 vaccine carriers, Measles/Rubella test kits and laboratory equipment, temperature monitoring devices. A second delivery of vital hospital equipment requested by the infectious disease referral center, the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila is soon to follow the donation given last January. As the lead agency in the Tacloban health cluster, WHO oversees the disease monitoring activities in the province to ensure prompt response to any brewing disease outbreak.

Dr. Willibald Zeck, UNICEF Philippines Chief of Health & Nutrition, explains the features of the ice-lined vaccine refrigerator.

Together with WHO and partners, UNICEF conducts the symbolic hand-over to the Department of Health (DOH) in Tacloban City today. These agencies plan to establish the cold chain first in Tacloban; and then expand the program across the typhoon-affected area.

"The needs on the ground remain great. The risk of disease outbreaks is ever present, and so far only half of affected communities have seen their health centres reopen," said Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF Philippines Representative.

UNICEF and WHO will focus on supporting DOH in building capacity for primary health care for community health workers, and establish a mechanism for quick surge in local health capacity in future emergencies and support local units of DOH to strengthen emergency preparedness, response and recovery capacity.

"The objective is to build capacity, reduce risks and increase resilience so all children can thrive today and stay confident for the future." she added.

A child receives oral polio vaccine.

WHO Representative in the Philippines Dr Julie Hall stressed the importance of building back better when ensuring that health infrastructure, which includes services, facilities, and equipment for the most vulnerable populations is present, as this is an essential step in guaranteeing healthy and capacitated communities.

"Exploring alternative technologies such as the use of solar energy, is a wonderful way of promoting resilience for these communities, considering that calamitous events such as Typhoon Yolanda can occur at any time. Ascertaining that such capability is in place is a positive way of placing health at the heart of healing for the communities in the Yolanda corridor," Dr Hall continued.



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