A safer journey for vaccines
Across Nepal, cold chain support provided by the Government of Japan through UNICEF is helping to ensure that vaccines – both for routine immunization of children and COVID-19 protection – reach communities safely
“The electricity here can be very unstable all through the year. And in the past, when the power would go off and the refrigerators didn’t work, we would have to move the vaccines into vaccine carriers with ice packs.”
That is Deepak Bohara, cold chain support staff at the District Health Office (DHO) in Doti District in far-western Nepal, talking about how he and his team would have to leap into action during the frequent power cuts in the area to ensure that vaccines could be kept at the right temperature. Deepak says this made things difficult.
“It was a hassle and there was always that risk that if we didn’t act in time, this would make the vaccines ineffective,” he says.
Now, however, the situation is vastly improved, thanks to the recent installment of a new solar-powered ice-lined refrigerator or ILR at the facility. The equipment – provided by the Government of Japan through UNICEF – runs entirely on solar energy drawn from solar panels that have been installed on the top floor of the DHO.
“Even when there is no electricity, we can continue to store vaccines in this ILR,” Deepak says. “It’s very easy to use, for all of us.”
The ILR is among a variety of cold chain equipment that Nepal has received under the Government of Japan’s grant through UNICEF to strengthen the vaccine cold chain system in the country. The assistance covered nine walk-in-coolers, 38 solar-powered ILRs, 1,109 long-range vaccine carriers and 53 cold boxes, which have been distributed and installed at vaccine storage facilities at the central, provincial, district and local levels.
Aarati Poudel, cold chain logistician from UNICEF Nepal currently working at the Provincial Health Logistics Management Centre in Dhangadhi Sub-Metropolitan City, says that the support has been crucial, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When the COVID-19 vaccine drive started in Nepal, we received vaccines in bulk, which posed a challenge in terms of storage capacity,” she explains. “Our cold chain system had been designed to store and move vaccines for routine immunization, but the sudden burden of COVID-19 vaccines was difficult to manage.”
With the support from the Government of Japan, among other health partners, however, the storage capacity has been expanded and strengthened, according to Aarati. “Now, if we receive large volumes of vaccines – whether for routine immunization or COVID-19 vaccination – in the future, we will be able to store them effectively thanks to the cold chain support,” she adds.
Meanwhile, in Jorayal Rural Municipality, which lies in a remote part of Doti District, healthworker Basanta Malla is busy attending to the young children who have been brought in by their caregivers to a vaccine outreach session. Such outreach sessions are conducted at designated vaccination centers every month across different communities in Jorayal, to help bring vaccines closer to children and families.
Basanta, who has been vaccinating children for 27 years now, marvels at the journey these vaccines take to get to communities.
“It can feel like a long and difficult process… You need the right equipment and knowledge and training to make sure you are doing it correctly and following protocol so that the vaccines can work,” she says. “But I think we should think ourselves lucky that thanks to technology, we have the ability to do all this and to serve families like this.”