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Keeping Yemen’s fragile vaccine supply lines running

UNICEF Yemen/2016/Farid
© UNICEF Yemen/2016/Farid
Mazen coordinating the movement of UNICEF supplies from Sana’a airport in Yemen to storage facilities around the country.

By Emman Al Sharafi

Sanaa, Yemen, 4 January 2017 - It was 18 October 2016. The long night had turned into morning. At 2:30 am UNICEF’s Mazen Al Hashedi was still at the airport, making frantic efforts to have vaccines worth US$ 2 million transported from the airport to the central store in Sana’a.

“I had to do my best not only because the vaccines were worth a lot of money and temperature-sensitive, but also because I am a Yemeni national working for UNICEF. Our organization helps Yemeni children survive through these vaccines,” said Hashedi popularly call Mazen. The 28-year-old Logistics Assistant is married and has a son. He joined UNICEF in August, 2015.

“As the father of a son, I would like to see a better and bright future for all Yemeni children so they can lead a healthy and happy life. With UNICEF’s presence and other humanitarian organizations, Yemeni children can now look forward to a better future where they can realize their rights to live and learn,” Mazen said.

Dedicated and loyal employees such as Mazen are a great resource for UNICEF-Yemen. They work not just for the salary that they get at the end of the month but because they love their work and their country.

Security remains a major issue in the country. With no commercial flights allowed to enter Yemen, UNICEF has been chartering planes to bring in supplies for children, including vaccines to Yemen. After arrival at the airport in Sana’a, it is mandatory to transfer these life-saving and temperature-sensitive vaccines quickly to the central store the same day to so they don’t go bad. That is the standard operating procedure. However, on 18 October it was almost impossible to transfer the vaccines that had arrived. Apparently, some paperwork had not been completed by the local authorities.

UNICEF Yemen/2016/Farid
© UNICEF Yemen/2016/Farid
Mazen supervising the transportation of UNICEF supplies at Sana’a airport in Yemen.

UNICEF Supply section staff particularly Mazen, was determined to swiftly get the vaccines to the central store. Mazen contacted several people from the local authorities seeking their help. It was hard convincing them to come to the airport after their work hours. The airport was also a risky place, without electricity, and fighter jets were hovering in the sky. Finally, he managed to convince some local officials to come to the airport at that wee morning hour.

With the cooperation of the Ministry of Health, they finally managed to transfer the vaccines to the central store. Mazen was hugely relieved. “My best times with UNICEF are those when we finish delivering a shipment and see it leaving for the beneficiaries, the children of Yemen. It was a great relief to see that all those efforts that morning did not go down the drain,” Mazen said.

“In fact, it can sometimes be very frustrating when I manage to compile and process all paperwork for shipment clearance, and then realize the local authorities, who are supposed to help in receiving the humanitarian aid, are the ones complicating the work,” he laments.

It was not the first time that Mazen had overcome a difficult situation. On 8 October 2016, when Sana’a witnessed its worst air strikes since the war in Yemen began, Mazen played a key role in transportation of medicines from the UNICEF warehouse to hospitals. That day more than 140 people were killed and many more were injured when a fully packed hall was bombed in Sana’a. UNICEF responded by rushing medicines to the hospitals. Two hours after the air strikes Mazen was on his way to deliver 40 square feet container of life saving supplies loaded on a truck that lost its balance and almost overturned. Mazen had to resolve the problem swiftly. He arranged for a giant bulldozer to come immediately to the site and placed the supplies back on the truck. The medicines were finally delivered to Alsabeen hospital from where they were further distributed by the health office to all hospitals that had injured people. The next day three more trucks with around 25 tons of life-saving supplies were also transferred to Alsabeen hospital. One of the major challenges were the checkpoints; the trucks had to stop at every checkpoint for inspection. But then, Mazen managed it all.

“Ours is a mission”, Mazen says. Indeed, like Mazen, UNICEF’s staff are central in implementing its programmes for children in Yemen.



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