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A Kenyan Lab’s New Equipment Delivery and Installation Challenges

Through the VACNADA Project, my partner organization, GALVmed will manage over €4million (US $5.6million) in support of equipment, training and refurbishment activities. KEVEVAPI (Kenya Veterinary Vaccines Production Institute) is one of eight vaccine production laboratories in sub-Saharan Africa benefitting through this grant.  The Kenya lab will receive several laboratory refurbishments and new equipment to increase the yield and quality of their specific vaccines.

Knocked out windows and wall to devlier equipment to top floor!

Most of the new equipment was purchased from Europe or the United States.  Long delivery times and unexpected delays are common.  As a result, clear communications with the suppliers are critical but can prove to be challenging. Since the Kenya lab staff was new to project execution, I led coordination of the suppliers and VACNADA team members in Scotland and Nairobi. In addition, I ensured the labs communicated to meet project deadlines on time. The first challenge was that I find out that construction materials were at port and expected on site in a few days; the installers were ready to begin but we weren’t!  Several of the new installations required pre-installation planning, including the cold store construction which is a walk in refrigerator or freezer for storing vaccines.  The staff did not understand that they must prepare a concrete platform and a gated structure, in addition to routing drainage pipe.  Since there are a few full-time maintenance staff, contractors were arranged to help prepare for the cold store installation.

Knocked out windows and wall to deliver equipment to top floor!

Another challenge was sourcing the necessary grade hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) for the room sterilizing machine; the equipment would have been rendered useless without the proper H2O2.  We quickly realized that this item is not readily available in all African countries, however suppliers were located after contacting suppliers familiar to us for assistance and the H2O2 was sourced, allowing the labs to finally utilize the new equipment. Unfortunately, bureaucratic and technical delays, very common in African countries caused the freezers and H2O2 generator to be held in customs for several months.  There’s significant confusion in customs clearance in differentiating protocols for tax, VAT and the sort of highly specialized equipment that we imported and large storage fees were applied to the impounded equipment. 

Unloading and moving freezers into the Kenya vaccine facility

Similar situations occurred for other African labs in the project.  I’m not sure if there is a good way around this, particularly as when goods are donated, it heightens the complexity of the red tape.  Two strategies to consider for future similar projects are to set aside tax payments and include this into the equipment budget costs, and petition and gain the government’s support for customs clearance in advance.  Therefore, the project team was ecstatic to have the release of the equipment!

Unloading and moving freezers into the Kenya vaccine facility

The final challenge was getting the new equipment delivered, unloaded, and set-up in the lab facility due to lack of appropriate moving equipment and tricky facility set-up.  More than 10 men pushed and pulled to get the freezers unloaded from the truck.  They used rope to secure and galvanized pipe to pry and roll the heavy load.  The existing freight elevator is broken and under refurbishment.  As a result, windows and a wall had to be knocked out and a crane hired to move in the lyophilizer and incubator to the top floor. The lab staff understands the importance of the equipment donations and have banded together, working tirelessly through these delivery and installation hiccups.  Somehow, progress was made, and the equipment is getting into the labs where they are needed most.    

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