Since October, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has had the biggest vaccine and health product depot in Sub-Saharan Africa. This large-scale project, which launched in 2016, has received technical and financial support from Gavi and UNICEF. We asked some questions to Guy Clarysse, Head of UNICEF DRC’s Child Survival Program.
Could you explain more about this depot?
This new depot enables us to store up to 5 000 m3 of vaccines in cold rooms and 12 000 m3 of other health products, guaranteeing more than six months’ worth of stock capacity. It is the biggest and most modern depot ever built in Sub-Saharan Africa. Before the construction of the depot, vaccines were purchased in small quantities due to the lack of sufficient storage capacity. Other health products, such as syringes, were stored in private depots. Now, it will be possible to buy larger quantities, store them without having to rely on private companies, and redistribute them to the different health districts.
Two other similar depots are currently under construction in Lubumbashi and Kisangani. These depots will be departure points for a complex supply chain that aims to guarantee the availability of vaccines and medications throughout the DRC. With this organization, Kinshasa no longer will be the only entry point for health products, so we will be able to guarantee the timely and efficient distribution of vaccines to the three corners of the DRC, with a significant reduction in distribution costs.
What was UNICEF’s role in this major project?
The construction of this depot is part of a strategic partnership between the Government of the DRC, Gavi and UNICEF. We have worked closely with the Ministry of Health throughout the project, from the design to the construction of the depots and the provision of the equipment. We have also taken part in discussions to draw up a plan for the management of the three depots and, once they are operational, we will ensure that the supply chain and the distribution plan are properly followed, in order to guarantee the availability of the vaccines to the last mile. In order to do this, we have refrigerated lorries, vehicles able to access the most remote areas and solar fridges for storing the vaccines at health centres.
The depot will facilitate vaccine storage and strengthen the cold chain so we can reach the most remote and difficult to access health districts. For many years, we have supported the Government of the DRC so every child can be vaccinated.
What does UNICEF do in the field of vaccinations?
Despite significant progress, the Democratic Republic of the Congo still has a high rate of child mortality from preventable diseases. In 2017, we vaccinated 2 542 135 children through development programs, reducing the number of unvaccinated children by 60% compared with 2016. The vaccination of children is a priority for UNICEF because it is crucial to enable every child to grow up healthy. We provide technical support to the Government of the DRC through the identification of the population’s health needs. Through monitoring activities, we ensure there is an appropriate response to these needs. Another significant challenge in the country is to overcome resistance to vaccination. Many communities still mistrust vaccinations and refuse to have their children vaccinated. We are working directly with these communities to inform them and raise their awareness about the importance of vaccinations.
Our work in the field of vaccination has two main aspects: guaranteeing the supply by ensuring the availability of vaccines and guaranteeing the demand by combating false beliefs around vaccines.
Translated from French by Holly-Anne Whyte