Today is a very special day in Meme Linea Absalom’s life: The 55-year-old Namibian receives her first COVID-19 vaccination at the Onandjokwe Intermediate Hospital near the town of Ondangwa. “I just like to feel safe, and the vaccination means that I can be safe,” she explains.
The vaccine that she receives came a long way as the hospital is located about 800 kilometers north of the capital, Windhoek. For health facilities such as this, the number of daily vaccinations fluctuates significantly. Sometimes the hospital requests as few as 10 vials per order.
Moreover, the COVID-19 vaccine by Pfizer-BioNtech must be continually kept at temperatures between minus 60 and minus 80 degrees Celsius – a challenge in a hot and vast country like Namibia, where the vaccines need to reach clinics that are located in remote areas far away from the medical cold storage in the capital.
The solution came with the introduction of small portable ultra-low-temperature freezers that look like high-tech camping cooler boxes. They are battery-powered and can maintain the required ultra-low temperature over many hours – the ideal means of transport for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Meme Linea’s vaccine arrived at her hospital with one of the four portable ultra-low-temperature freezers funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through its Right-to-Care Equip project for the country’s Ministry of Health and Social Services. Just one of these state-of-the-art portable medical freezer units costs close to N$250,000.
Partnering with Namibia’s postal service, NamPost, the USAID Global Health Supply Chain Program (GHSC-PSM) is responsible for the logistics to ensure the cold-chain is not broken until the vaccine reaches its destination, even to the farthest reaches of the country.
As soon as a health facility orders a batch of vaccine vials, NamPost staff will turn on one of the mobile freezers to reach ultra-cold temperature within three to four hours.
“Then you have to be very quick,” explains NamPost driver Stanley /Uirab. “I have to get the freezer from the storage room to the car within seconds and immediately connect it to the battery.” Only when the vaccine has safely arrived and is ready to be administered into the arm of a Namibian, Stanley can confidently say “mission accomplished.”
“The United States government has supported Namibia’s fight against COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020,” explains USAID Country Representative, Dr. McDonald Homer.
USAID together with the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and other agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has so far invested about US$20 million (approx. N$350 million) in Namibia’s COVID response.
Thanks to the small mobile ultra-low-temperature freezers that go the last extra mile to ensure safe vaccine delivery, Linea Absolom will get her second COVID shot in a few weeks’ time: “It’s just 40 kilometers from my village to Onandjokwe Hospital. I have to come back and get the second dose. I know the vaccines are professionally handled, they are safe, and they reduce the risk of hospitalization and death due to COVID infection.”