Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Cold Chain Guru of NTT

By Ermi Ndoen, EPI Officer

Ariel gives a presentation at a UNICEF-supported cold chain workshop and training in NTT province ©Ermi Ndoen/UNICEF/2017
Ende: It’s just a normal day in the life of Johanis Rihi Leo, known as “Ariel,” who always has somewhere to be.  

“I’ve got to go fix three cold chain refrigerators right away,” said Ariel, before rushing off from Ende in Flores to Kefamenanu in Timor Tengah (TTU) District, a hilly district on the eastern island of Timor hundreds of kilometers away.
Ariel oversees cold chain integrity for the East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) Provincial Health Agency, ensuring vaccines headed for local health centres stay cold from point of manufacture to point of use – no mean feat in a tropical country where high temperatures make constant refrigeration costly.
Keeping vaccines cold, however, is a must, as they stop working if not kept between 2-8° C. Ariel makes sure that once vaccines make it to local health centres, they stay cold.
“Unfortunately, I often find broken vaccine storage units and no one able to fix them,” Ariel said.  “Sometimes the problem is minor, like a broken wire caused by a mouse bite, but other times the repairs are more expensive.
“One unit can equal the price of a new Toyota Innova!” he added.

In Indonesia, some 2-3 million deaths are prevented each year through vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus (lockjaw), pertussis, and measles. Ensuring vaccines stay at the proper temperature is a core focus of UNICEF Indonesia’s work. The organization works closely with local governments to identify weak points in the cold chain, providing expertise and advice on how to strengthen them.
“It is sad when I see units that have fallen into disrepair, and to imagine children might receive bad vaccines. Actually, the equipment will last a long time if it is maintained properly,” Ariel said.
His work as a cold chain technician stretches back to 2011, when he was invited to participate in a province-wide training on cold chain repair and maintenance held by UNICEF.
“I was interested to explore more about it, but it all really started with my interest in fixing things,” Ariel said.
Only a handful of those trained have since accumulated the necessary work experience to become trainers themselves.
“Some of my friends were trained, but it was me who was persistent and stuck with it. I’ve fixed dozens of cold chains until now, probably saving [the government] billions of rupiah through repairs,” he said.
Ariel has been asked to evaluate and repair cold chains in places as far away as Sumba, Flores and all over Kupang in Timor Island.
©Ermi Ndoen/UNICEF/2017
He says he is determined to keep doing his part to ensure vaccines are effective and children are protected.
“I feel sad if children don’t receive a safe vaccine due to breaks in the cold chain.”
“By helping my colleagues improve their cold chains, I help ensure a brighter future for all NTT children,” he said.
Go Ariel! The children of NTT need you.