Twice every year UNICEF Eritrea flies in a large consignment of vaccines to help Eritrea maintain immunization coverage for its children, one of the highest in the Eastern and Southern Africa region.
ASMARA, Eritrea – A gentle wind rustled across the otherwise azure sky over Asmara International Airport as a solitary Boeing 727 dipped low on the horizon and then gently touched down.
With a net capacity of 20,000 kgs, this chartered Boeing 727 was carrying the most precious cargo to land in Asmara in a while: almost 4.3 million doses of different life-saving vaccines for the children of Eritrea.
As the hatch was opened, cargo handlers moved into action and positioned a retractable loading platform on the tarmac under the plane. They were joined by Mr. Tedros Yehdego, the EPI Manager for the Ministry of Health, and Ms. Shaheen Nilofer, UNICEF Representative.
“These biannual air charters of vaccines strengthen the Ministry of Health’s efforts to sustain immunization goals and further reduce infant and child mortality by ensuring that all Eritrean children receive the required vaccines throughout the year,” said Ms. Nilofer.
The cargo also included the 3.1 million doses of the Men-A vaccine that will be used to inoculate more than 3 million children and youth aged between 1 to 29 years for the upcoming Meningitis-A vaccination campaign; one of the largest conducted in Eritrea.
Additionally, the air charter was also carrying MR, bOPV, Penta, Rota, PCV, BCG, IPV and Td vaccines for the prevention of measles, rubella, polio, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis-B, heamophilus influenza, rotavirus diarrhoea, tuberculosis, and neonatal tetanus respectively. These vaccines are administered to children according to the routine immunization schedules through the 295 health facilities and 450 outreach posts in Eritrea.
Since 2014, UNICEF has been providing air charters to ensure timely delivery of vaccines to support Eritrea sustain its high rates of immunization coverage and to ensure that no child is left behind.
Timing is of essence as it is vital to maintain the cold-chain of the vaccines, and within three hours – from the time the plane landed - the entire consignment of vaccines were transported from the airport to the safety of the Ministry of Health’s National Vaccine Cold Room in Asmara.
These vaccines were procured with partial funding from GAVI, and with UNICEF and Government of Eritrea co-financing contributions. Due to the concerted effort of partners (UNICEF, WHO and GAVI), Eritrea’s immunization programme has achieved more than 95 per cent routine immunisation coverage consistently, for the past five years.
Eritrea has also been awarded for effective vaccine management practices in 2016 and 2017 by UNICEF’s Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office and is among a few countries to have achieved MDG Goal 4, for reducing child mortality by 2/3 in 2015.
UNICEF’s support through donor funding for procurement, delivery and distribution of vaccines, cold chain equipment and training and supervision of health personnel and other service providers, has been critical to ensuring success. The main donors for the immunization campaign are GAVI, and the Government of Japan for the cold chain systems. UNICEF also supports provision of solar powered fridges to ensure cold-chain systems in remote areas of Eritrea.
“We are thankful for the unwavering support of our donors and partners to strengthen not just the immunization systems in the country progressively but to ensure we continue to immunize every child as part of quality primary healthcare,” said Ms. Nilofer.