UNICEF’s freight and logistics allies help overcome 2021 global shipping industry turmoil

The sudden brake on international transport created serious repercussions across global supply chains

NEPAL receives the first consignment out of a total of 6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines
UNICEF/UN0559347/Prasad Ngakh
20 December 2021

As 2021 approached, the COVID-19 pandemic continued to threaten health, education and economic systems worldwide. In its mission to safeguard the wellbeing of children, UNICEF intensified engagement with the international freight and logistics sector to address bottlenecks and close gaps in the global vaccine and humanitarian supply chain. As a result, some of the most prominent leaders in the industry rallied behind UNICEF’s goal to ensure equitable access to supplies for children and their families, despite the supply chain crisis.

In November 2020, in cooperation with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), UNICEF briefed 350 logistics organizations and airline partners on upgrading existing capacity and other actions needed to deliver 2 billion COVID-19 vaccines. UNICEF and IATA launched the Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative, uniting 16 major commercial and cargo airlines in prioritising the delivery of vaccines and other life-saving supplies. 

The following month, UNICEF and the World Economic Forum signed a Charter with 20 air and sea carriers, ports authorities, forwarders and logistics providers to support and prioritise the inclusive and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and related supplies.

Signatories of the Charter, members of the Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative and other industry players collaborated with UNICEF across its supply and logistics operations and contributed to historic achievements in 2021:   

  • Nearly 2.8  billion doses of non-COVID vaccines, in addition to other critical life-saving supplies, were delivered globally. 
  • The humanitarian supply chain remained operational for children and families in Afghanistan, Yemen and other countries in emergencies. 
  • 144 low- and middle-income countries received 721.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines and auxiliary supplies.
    Figures as of 15 December 2021. Source: Supply Division

These results were made possible, in part, thanks to critical support from a number of industry players: 

Humanitarian supplies sent by UNICEF are offloaded at the Hodeidah port in Yemen
Humanitarian supplies sent by UNICEF are offloaded at the Hodeidah port in Yemen

Four sea carriers – AP Møller-Maersk, CMA CGM, Hapag Lloyd, and MSC helped mitigate shipping delays and enabled access by prioritising COVID-19 related supplies. AP Møller-Maersk and CMA CGM have designed systems that automatically flag COVID-19 shipments to help prioritise them. In addition, CMA CGM supported the transport of 54 containers of critical medical supplies and education material to Yemen, 3.5 million schoolbooks to support children’s remote learning in Chad, and construction material to Lebanon to rebuild the Port of Beirut. MSC supported the COVID-19 vaccination campaign in Lebanon by providing sea freight to deliver vital personal protective equipment (PPE).

In January, in response to UNICEF’s request for technical expertise to support scale-up capacity for COVAX roll-out, Deutsche Post DHL Group deployed logisticians to UNICEF logistics teams in Copenhagen and Dubai. DHL expertise is helping UNICEF track COVID-19 vaccine shipments, monitor supply forecasts, provide analyses on streamlining shipment planning, and manage COVAX supplies strategically prepositioned in Dubai.

"Prominent industry leaders rallied behind UNICEF to ensure equitable access to critical supplies."

DP World and UNICEF announced a three-year multimillion-dollar partnership to support the global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and related immunization supplies. DP World’s Dubai warehouse facilities became a distribution hub for COVID-19 supplies such as syringes and safety boxes destined to low- and middle-income countries and will enable greater supply chain efficiencies in future emergencies. Responding to India’s worst epidemiological surge in May, DP World organized the delivery of additional critical items, including 2 million face shields and 200,000 surgical masks.

Flexport donated airlifts to bring cold chain equipment to Venezuela and move prepositioned supplies from Shanghai to the UNICEF global supply hub in Dubai.

The HOPE Consortium, a public-private partnership based in the United Arab Emirates, supported UNICEF from its hub in Abu Dhabi. The partnership provides transport, storage, handling, global distribution services, and additional logistics capacity to support COVAX. In October 2021, the HOPE Consortium facilitated a shipment of critical supplies, including 65 ultra-cold cold chain freezers for COVID-19 vaccine storage to 21 African countries.

A smiling boys carries a paper carton box containing a Water and Hygiene Kit at Tavea Village, Bua, Fiji.
UNICEF/UN0400152/Stephen/Infinity Images
Asinate Catanavula receives a Water and Hygiene Kit at Tavea Village, Bua, Fiji.

Kuehne + Nagel continues to support UNICEF by managing emergency stock in Dubai’s International Humanitarian City, enabling a rapid response to emergencies globally. The company also supported the first COVID-19 vaccine shipment under COVAX to Ghana. 

Acknowledging that strengthening supply chains is key for future resiliency, the Port of Antwerp partnered with UNICEF to help integrate supply chain sustainability into national and subnational supply chains and reduce bottlenecks in West Africa shipments through collaboration with the Port of Cotonou in Benin.

"Collaboration has been essential to overcome the crisis and build supply chain resiliency."

UNICEF’s long-time partner, the UPS Foundation, supported the delivery of 3,000 oxygen concentrators to India to support health systems coping with a deadly second wave of COVID-19. Each concentrator lasts a minimum of five years and can provide oxygen therapy to nearly 700 people over this time. UPS also delivered 45 metric tons of nutrition supplies to Chad, ensuring that 3,000 children had access to life-saving support.

Several airline partners also provided special support in transporting a range of humanitarian supplies in 2021, including American Airlines, Emirates, Iberia, Saudia Cargo, Turkish Cargo and Qatar Airways.

In a year of unprecedented disruption to supply chains, UNICEF is immensely grateful for the support of freight and logistics leaders and professionals united in a shared commitment to deliver life-saving supplies to vulnerable children.