Following years of disruption, U.N. officials have taken steps to help ensure that livestock vaccines are safely transported and stored in war-torn South Sudan. In September, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (“FAO”), together with the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Industry (“MLFI”), re-established a centralized temperature controlled supply chain or “cold chain”.
Changes in temperature degrade vaccines and other biologic medicines by altering their molecular structure. Without a constant temperature in a narrow range above freezing, many vaccines lose their potency, become ineffective, or can become hazardous. Similar to humans, the availability of preventative vaccines is critical to the health of livestock. In South Sudan, lapses in the cold chain could make livestock more vulnerable to disease.
A rural village in South Sudan.
According to the FAO, South Sudan has one of the largest herds of livestock in Africa, with an estimated 11 million cows and 19 million sheep and goats. More than 80% of the population depends on livestock for their livelihood.
Maintaining the cold chain in South Sudan, with its tropical heat, limited financial resources, and spotty access to electricity presents a challenge to vaccine developers. According to the World Bank, only 24% of the population of nearby sub-Saharan Africa has access to electricity. Those with access experience unreliable service – African manufacturers report power outages on average 56 days per year. These issues can be exacerbated during times of conflict.
The revamped cold chain system in South Sudan is intended to replace existing infrastructure, much of which was destroyed following the outbreak of civil war in 2013. According to an FAO representative, $1 million of cold chain equipment, including spare parts and refrigeration tools, have been procured this year. Many of the country’s kerosene refrigerators have been replaced with solar-powered units, which can operate during times of crisis with little maintenance or fuel.
South Sudan now has 167 cold chain units spread across the country, says the FAO, and the cold chain headquarters in Juba has tripled in storage capacity since 2013. In addition, 72 technicians from the MLFI, and its partners, have been trained on vaccine and cold chain management.
While encouraging, developing vaccines that can be stored and shipped without reliance on the cold chain may represent a more practical long-term solution.
We believe that VBI’s thermostable technology platform will enable the development of vaccines and biologics that can withstand storage or shipment at fluctuating or elevated temperatures. Once commercialized, this technology could increase vaccine access, potency, and safety in emerging markets like South Sudan. To learn more about our thermostable technology, please contact us.