UNICEF and ADB gifts two refrigerated vans to MoH

Sonam Penjor

To support the Royal Government of Bhutan’s (RGoB) preparedness in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccination, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and UNICEF handed over two refrigerated vans to the Ministry of Health (MoH) this week.

A joint press release from the MoH, ADB and UNICEF stated that the refrigerated vans were procured with funding support from the ADB’s Technical Assistance (TA) for regional support to address the outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 and potential outbreaks of other communicable diseases in collaboration with UNICEF. The vans will be used in transporting COVID-19 vaccines and also support the cold chain system for regular immunization programme.

Following the provision of medical supplies last year to support the Government’s COVID-19 response, it states that the vans are among the first set of medical supplies UNICEF has procured as part of ADB’s technical assistance in preparation of the mass COVID-19 vaccine roll out. The technical assistance will also support in delivering eight walk-in coolers, a walk-in freezer, two bio-medical repair vans and two ultra-cold rooms.

The current support supplements ADB’s earlier USD 2.4-million (M) grant from Asia Pacific Disaster Response Fund and the ongoing Health Sector Development Project for the procurement of medical supplies and PPEs. ADB has also approved USD 20-M as a support loan to help the government implement the economic contingency plan, added the press release.

ADB’s Officer In-charge, Atsushi Kaneko, said ADB stands ready to work with the government and development partners to provide additional assistance in rolling out the country’s COVID-19 vaccine deployment plan.

“Bhutan has managed the COVID-19 pandemic in an exemplary way and ADB is fully committed to supporting Bhutan’s financial and human resources to ensure a coordinated and effective response,” Atsushi Kaneko said.

Bhutan is listed among the first 18 countries to receive the first wave of Pfizer vaccines through the COVAX Facility. Around 10,275 syringes for the vaccines, are also expected to reach the country soon.

UNICEF began shipping the first tranche of syringes last week to support countries in the roll of the COVID-19 vaccines. The shipment is part of work by the COVAX facility to provide vaccines to all participating countries.

A total of 5,850 doses of Pfizer and 108,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines have been allocated to Bhutan through COVAX facility. The facility plans to provide vaccines for up to 20 percent of the population. Purchase order for 24,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, of the 108,000 has been placed.

As a part of UNICEF’s support to the national COVID-19 response for cold chain management, 224 vaccine carriers and 400 data loggers or 30-Day Temperature Recorders (30 DTR) were procured through support from GAVI.

Health Minister, Dasho Dechen Wangmo said, “The support is timely, as the Ministry gears up to roll out the COVID-19 vaccination program soon. The support will enhance Bhutan’s effort to battle the pandemic. ADB and UNICEF has been instrumental partner to MoH always and we are grateful to our development partners for all the assistance until now.”

The Pfizer vaccine, which was the first to receive WHO Emergency Use Listing, requires ultra-cold chain storage. Bhutan’s stock of Pfizer vaccines will be stored at the Royal Centre for Disease Control in Serbithang, Thimphu.

UNICEF has been working around the clock with partners to support governments to ensure the cold chain facilities are in place to store and distribute a variety of COVID-19 vaccines with different cold chain requirements.

UNICEF Bhutan supported the RGoB in the development of National Vaccine Deployment Plan, preparation and submission of application for vaccine and cold chain equipment to COVAX Facility, update the cold chain inventory to strengthen cold chain systems, and in the development of training materials for health workers.

UNICEF Bhutan’s Representative, Dr Will Parks said, “As the UN and Bhutan celebrate 50 years of partnership, UNICEF is leveraging its expertise in procuring COVID-19 vaccines, cold chain equipment, and other critical medical supplies and technical assistance to support the Government’s vaccination plans and ensure the wellbeing of its people.”

“UNICEF remains committed to support the Government’s efforts to recover from the impacts of COVID-19 and build back better.”

The COVAX Facility, co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO, together with UNICEF, aims to provide at least 2 billion doses of approved COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021, enabling participating economies to protect frontline health care and social workers, as well as other high-risk and vulnerable groups.

Meanwhile, Bhutan plans to roll out a COVID-19 mass vaccination of the eligible 533,000 people once the country has a stock of 1.2-M doses of the vaccines.