With the COVID-19 pandemic upending the lives of millions of children around the world, UNICEF is delivering life-saving supplies despite unprecedented transport and logistical constraints caused by the virus.
“From supply shortages to transport constraints, COVID-19 has brought enormous challenges to our supply operations,” UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore was quoted as saying in a press release on Monday.
“However, with support from our partners, we were able to meet some of the most pressing needs and keep children and communities safe.”
So far this year, UNICEF has given key personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies to over 100 countries to support their response to the pandemic, including 7.5 million surgical masks, 2.8 million N95 respirators, nearly 10 million gloves, over 830,000 gowns, and nearly 600,000 face shields.
The UN body also shipped over 550,000 diagnostic tests, with an additional 912,000 planned to be delivered through August, and is sending over 16,000 oxygen concentrators to 90 low- and middle-income countries.
In Vietnam, UNICEF handed over to the Ministry of Health 15,000 coveralls for distribution to health facilities in need.
UNICEF also distributed life-saving supplies including soap bars, hand sanitizer, and ceramic water filters to schools, commune health centers, and communities in seven provinces, including Soc Trang, Ben Tre, Ninh Thuan, Lao Cai, Dien Bien, Gia Lai, and Kon Tum.
These locally procured supplies reached more than 340,000 vulnerable people – mainly children – to protect against the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases.
Limited availability of commercial flights has also taken a heavy toll on shipments of supplies for regular programs.
From March to May in a typical year, UNICEF would have made more than 700 vaccine shipments to countries around the world.
During the same period in 2020, just over half that amount – 391 shipments – was delivered.
Despite such challenges, UNICEF was able to procure and timely deliver 800,000 doses of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) to Vietnam for routine immunization and this contributes to ensuring adequate stock and continuity of IPV vaccination in the country.
In addition, 340 medical refrigerators for vaccine storage are on the way to Vietnam and should be delivered in July 2020.
To address vaccine shipment challenges, UNICEF is appealing to governments, the private sector, the aviation industry, and others to provide solutions for freight space at an affordable cost for life-saving vaccines.
For example, a recent charter pooled what would have been separate vaccine shipments into one, making eight stops in West African countries that would otherwise be hard to reach.
UNICEF’s COVID-19 response builds on a strong year for its supply operations in 2019, when its procurement of supplies and services reached a record level of US$3.826 billion, representing a nearly 10 percent increase from 2018 levels.
Over one-third of the total procurement was for vaccines at $1.656 billion, accounting for 2.43 billion doses for nearly 100 countries to reach 45 percent of the world’s children under five years of age.
UNICEF also exceeded its savings target for 2019 by over 35 percent, achieving $363.3 million in savings across a range of products by leveraging strategic procurement approaches.
“Our collaboration with national governments, partners, and the private sector is vital to our efforts to reach children with the supplies they need,” said Etleva Kadilli, director of the UNICEF supply and procurement headquarters.
“Through our global reach and innovative approaches, we leverage our purchasing power and achieve significant savings for governments and donors.
"As we work together to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, this approach becomes even more important to maximize each dollar spent so that regular programs can be maintained, as countries also scale up COVID-19 response efforts.”