Ensuring quality

The quality of goods and services that UNICEF procures for children is key to delivering results for every child.

A girl is vaccinate against Cholera in Oudomxay camp, Attapeu, Lao PDR, July 2018

The challenge

Our work to deliver healthcare, education and protection for children cannot begin without ensuring that the products and services we choose are safe and of superior quality.

UNICEF is responsible for a wide range of products: medicines, therapeutic food, school supplies and hygiene items are just a few examples. Evaluating these requires a range of knowledge and skills, as well as constant updates to meet evolving needs.  

The risks are high, especially for sensitive products like medicines and nutrition products, as contaminated or defective products can cause harm to children. Therefore, our work requires continuous attention to detail throughout the supply chain while focusing on the needs of children.

The solution

A baby receives treatment for severe malnutrition at Moroto Regional, Uganda, in May 2017.

UNICEF dedicates a lot of care and attention to detail to make sure we only deliver products that are safe for children and of the best available quality. We apply the highest international standards and regulatory frameworks to all the products we procure, and we are becoming a leading authority on the quality of supplies for children.

UNICEF ensures that technical standards are met across the supply chain for over $2 billion worth of international procurement. Additionally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) assures the quality of over $1.453 billion worth of vaccines that UNICEF delivers for children.

Our quality assurance specialists also set guidelines to support local procurement undertaken by UNICEF Country Offices. UNICEF’s rigorous approach incentivizes new manufacturers to make the investments needed to become compliant with good manufacturing practices (GMP) and other requirements that correspond to international standards.

Pharmaceutical and nutrition products

All UNICEF procurement of pharmaceutical and nutrition products must be carried out by our global supply hub in Copenhagen, where a team of quality assurance specialists – including experienced pharmacists – ensure that medicines and therapeutic food meet quality standards. Without dedicated pharmacists, UNICEF Country Offices are not allowed to procure such sensitive products.

The Copenhagen warehouse, where products are sampled and checked for compliance to specifications, is licensed by the Danish Health and Medicines Agency to be compliant with Good Distribution Practice (GDP). This ensures that pharmaceutical products are handled appropriately and are traceable at any time.
Find out more about compliance for medicines and nutrition products.

    A child suffering from severe malnutrition lies in bed under his mosquito net, in the city of Mopti, Mali.

    Non-pharmaceutical products

    Quality assurance specialists inspect and evaluate products that include school supplies as well as health supplies like syringes, rapid diagnostic tests for HIV and malaria, and insecticide-treated bed nets. They also ensure that suppliers consistently apply and maintain their certified Quality Management Systems (QMS) – a set of policies, business processes and procedures.


         Here are four areas
         where UNICEF is involved:


    1. Sample evaluations

    All potential suppliers submit product samples. UNICEF evaluates them to ensure they meet contract specifications and appropriate international standards. We conduct basic mechanical testing and inspection in a laboratory, including textile material tensile strength, bursting strength and dimensional stability. Product safety is a key attribute we test for. For more detailed analyses, we may engage the services of an external laboratory.


    2. Site inspections

    Manufacturing sites are inspected to make sure suppliers are aware of UNICEF requirements and a working QMS is applied to the products supplied to UNICEF. Site inspections can also cover social accountability and environmental aspects.


    3. Goods receipt inspection

    Products we purchase are checked for compliance to specifications, packaging, documentation, quality of workmanship and shelf life, among other criteria.


    4. Pre-delivery inspection and supervision of loading

    If a delivery is made directly from a supplier to the destination, rather than to UNICEF warehouses, UNICEF contracts third-party agents who conduct inspections on our behalf at the supplier’s premises as soon as a shipment is ready.


    Collaborating with the World Health Organisation (WHO)

    The WHO is an important partner in setting safety standards and guidelines for sensitive health products like medicines and nutrition products. It also pre-qualifies and regularly inspects vaccine manufacturers that supply vaccines to UNICEF. Find out more about regulating and controlling vaccine quality.