Japan supports cold chain equipment and training

The acting secretary of Ministry of Health Pemba Wangchuk along with other dignitaries at the handing taking ceremony

All healthcare facilities in the country are now well-equipped to store vaccines at different required temperatures

LHAKPA TSHERING | Thimphu

To strengthen Bhutan’s healthcare system, the Japanese government through its partnership with UNICEF provided cold chain equipment to the Ministry of Health.

The equipment worth USD 1.4 m, which includes 2,134 cold chain equipment, 500 temperature monitoring devices, and two generators, will ultimately support routine and campaign immunization programs in the country.

Addressing the delegates during the handover ceremony on 26 October, acting health secretary Pemba Wangchuk expressed delight that Japan’s contribution played a key part in Bhutan’s successful Covid-19 vaccination rollout.

He said that by leveraging Japan’s financial support and the expertise of UNICEF in procurement and logistics, Bhutan significantly strengthened the capacity for storing lifesaving vaccines, thus, resulting in high Covid-19 vaccination coverage rates during the pandemic.

“The pandemic has also brought to the fore the need to enhance investments in expanding cold chain capacities, including the need for ultra-low temperature freezers to store contemporary vaccines made using complex technologies,” he added.

All healthcare facilities across the country are now equipped to meet cold chain requirements, as a result, greatly enhancing the capacity in taking vital vaccination services to far-flung communities and hard-to-reach populations.

“The cold chain equipment we have received to date has all been installed in our health facilities, and is being used to further our immunization efforts so that no Bhutanese requiring vaccination services are left behind,” said Pemba Wangchuk.

He also explained that it was through financial support from the government of Japan that Bhutan was able to procure a diverse set of cold chain equipment to store and transport Covid-19 vaccines as well as routine vaccines in the recommended temperature range.

“Cold chain is the backbone of any immunization program and a robust cold chain system ensures that our children and women receive safe and effective vaccination services,” he said.

Besides, as a part of the support, more than 800 health workers, cold chain and bio-medical technicians, and electricians were trained in vaccine management and repair of cold chain equipment.

UNICEF Bhutan Representative, Marie-Consolée Mukangendo, said that the support from the Japanese government has vastly contributed in achieving high coverage of Covid-19 vaccination for children and adults including high routine immunization coverage.

“Amid all the complexities the pandemic presented, our partnership is about children and families, about saving lives and protecting them by delivering vaccines stored at the right temperature,” she added.

In addition to the aforementioned support, a comprehensive cold chain assessment was conducted to better understand existing gaps and to map the cold chain equipment which is critical for ensuring equitable and appropriate distribution.

The funding support also enabled the health ministry to digitize the monitoring of cold chain equipment with GIS mapping and online temperature excursion monitoring sensors.

With this, the health ministry’s vaccine-preventable disease program will be able to better track and monitor online, the type of cold chain equipment, its location, its temperature, and other parameters.

The mapping and sensor systems will alert the health staff and officials to take timely corrective actions in case of any temperature fluctuations, thereby, helping ensure vaccine efficacy at all times.