UNICEF support boosts vaccine storage capacity in Kassala state
“Our vaccine storage capacity more than doubled with the construction of this facility."
Suleiman Mohammed Seiad goes about his daily routine – monitoring and recording the temperatures of refrigerators that keep vaccines safe, checking stock, updating records, monitoring vaccine stocks in other facilities, monitoring supplies in the dry store, and much more.
This is Suleiman’s typical day. It often starts as early as 6 am and ends as late as 7 p.m. at the cold chain facility, where he oversees three departments - vaccine management, supply distribution and maintenance of the facility.
For five years now, Suleiman, the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) Supply Officer at the facility, has led the critical team that ensures stocks of vaccines are available to support the vaccination of children and women. Today, together with his team, they operate in a new and spacious facility that provides vaccines to 93 other EPI fixed sites, in 11 localities of Kassala state, in addition to 145 outreach sites and 18 mobile vaccination teams.
“In the past years, limited storage capacity for vaccines and other supplies in Kassala was a big challenge.” “We lacked adequate space to stock enough vaccines for the catchment areas they support. Running out of stocks of vaccines and delayed orders were inevitable, which paralyzed vaccination drives whenever the team couldn’t access vaccines in time. This exposed children who missed out to life-threatening diseases” says Ahmed Abdulkarim, EPI Manager, State Ministry of Health, Kassala state.
For many years the cold chain facility in Kassala was housed in a very small room where Suleiman and three other colleagues operated. “We lacked the motivation to do our job,” he says. “I remember we were cramped in the room with four refrigerators and a smaller cold room.”
The new walk-in cold chain facility and EPI building
In September 2021, UNICEF, with financial assistance from the German Government through KfW Development Bank, started the construction of the State Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) building which was unveiled in January 2022. The new building houses the walk-in cold room, dry store, meeting rooms and offices of the state immunization focal persons. It is a one stop centre for everything around immunization, supporting the state to work towards no zero-dose children.
The new and spacious cold chain room is powered by electricity with support from a standby generator during power interruptions. UNICEF support ensured temperature mapping, calibration and testing were completed before the facility was opened.
With the changes, the EPI team has also improved how they work. Previously they made vaccine orders from the Federal level in small batches as they lacked space to accommodate large orders. Today, they place quarterly orders which can easily be accommodated within the ample storage space. With the regular orders, adequate storage facilities and new refrigerators, they no longer run out of stock. Vaccines once received are distributed to the lower-level health facilities every month, and this is immediately followed by new orders for the next three months. The cycle continues and is closely monitored by Suleiman to ensure vaccine stocks are up to date at all times.
“Our vaccine storage capacity more than doubled with the construction of this facility,” Abdulkarim shared.
With an improved work environment and the availability of resources to support his job, Suleiman is motivated to keep contributing to what he calls a noble cause. “I am proud that my humble contribution ensures that vaccines are readily available, effective and that they reach people in time to protect them from diseases. This I do for humanity,” Suleiman shared.
As Sudan gears up for the upcoming nationwide polio outbreak response campaigns in March and May, the team in Kassala is confident that the new cold chain facility can store all the polio vaccines required for the two campaigns, which wasn’t the case before. As such, they will place their orders in time and await receipt of the vaccines.
“Our cold chain facility is currently big enough to accommodate all vaccines – those required for routine immunization, and supplementary immunization activities – polio, COVID. Even if we have a new vaccine added to the list of routine immunization vaccines, it can be accommodated,” Abdulkarim concluded.
The Kassala cold chain is contributing to an integrated package of essential social services in eastern Sudan wherein UNICEF, in partnership with the German Financial Cooperation/KfW and other development partners, aims to create a safe and enabling environment for mothers and children to survive and thrive.