Our work overseas

In the race to fight against Covid-19, UNICEF's supply chains are working 24/7

The Covid-19 pandemic is having an unprecedented impact on global supply chains. UNICEF is developing innovative solutions to ensure we continue to reach as many children as possible with life-saving supplies.

The Covid-19 pandemic is having an unprecedented impact on global supply chains and airfreight operations around the world. As the virus disrupts everything from factory outputs to flights, UNICEF has had to develop innovative solutions to ensure our crucial supply chains remain open and has taken a collaborative approach to continue reaching as many children as possible.

Vulnerable children continue to face unimaginable conditions which are only exacerbated by the outbreak. It has never been more important to reach these children with life-saving essentials such as medicines, vaccines, nutrition, sanitation and education supplies. Our vital deliveries also now include personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand sanitiser to keep front line health workers safe, items that are now 100 times in higher demand than before.

As countries try to limit the spread of the virus, severe restrictions on international air travel have grounded aircraft, delayed shipments and hiked up the price of delivering life-saving supplies for our humanitarian programmes.

@UNICEF | UN069235-1
@UNICEF | UN069235-1

The UNICEF humanitarian warehouse in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The pandemic is applying immense pressure on the production capacities of our partner manufacturers. Some manufacturers have significantly reduced manufacturing capability due to Covid-19 restrictions. Other manufacturers are still able to operate, but their raw materials and supplies come from countries whose borders are restricted, delaying production.

Shipping and logistics are also severely affected. 48% of all vaccines that UNICEF procures are produced in India alone, whilst 36% come from Europe, and these vaccines rely on regular passenger planes for transport. Unfortunately, with the travel restrictions put in place to combat the spread of Covid-19, flights and subsequent vaccine distributions have been significantly reduced.

UNICEF is constantly reviewing the available capacity of cargo aircraft and is working with partners from both the private and public sectors to optimise the use of space on planes that are still flying. This even extends to arranging charter flights to deliver critical emergency supplies, particularly to regions in Africa and the Middle East.

© UNICEF/UNI312248
© UNICEF/UNI312248

A truck carrying UNICEF donated supplies arrives at an emergency warehouse in Wuhan on 18 March 2020

Specially formulated therapeutic foods used to combat malnutrition are incredibly important products that fortunately have not yet been severely impacted by logistical challenges thanks to the geographical spread of producers across the globe, including in South Asia, the Americas, Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa. UNICEF procures as much as 80% of the world’s supply of ready-to-eat therapeutic food and most of these products, as well as water purification tablets, are shipped via sea freight.

Unexpected challenges continue to crop up. One example is the increased need for products such as hand sanitiser which needs to be constituted of 60% alcohol to be effective. This proportion means hand sanitiser is classed as a dangerous good, and therefore subject to restrictions by air freight. We anticipate a continued problem-solving approach to overcome these obstacles.

Despite these challenges, our supply operations have not ceased and we are working around the clock to get supplies from our warehouse in Copenhagen to regional hubs, ensuring they are available when needed. Whilst supply chains around the world are slowly starting to move once again, UNICEF continues to work hard to identify solutions to the ongoing obstacles it is facing.

© UNICEF/UNI322100
© UNICEF/UNI322100

On 16 April 2020 in Nigeria, UNICEF received a delivery of vital health supplies to support the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic via a privately funded flight.

What are we doing to help logistics?


  • is working with countries, international suppliers and global freight forwarders to mitigate risks and prioritise shipments of emergency and essential supplies.

  • is engaging with WHO and other global partners to monitor and manage access to essential medicines and continuing to explore other means of delivering vaccines.     

  • is working with industry globally to source additional products that are in short or restricted supply.

  • is in contact with relevant authorities to waive export bans for medical items and PPEs that enable UNICEF and humanitarian actors to continue to exceptionally respond to COVID-19.    

  • is in dialogue with other global procurers, such as the Global Fund, to collaboratively mitigate further risks with certain high-demand and essential items, such as long-lasting insecticidal nets.   

  • has provided each country office with information on how to work with local and regional suppliers of certain products, such as hand sanitiser, to ensure it is accessible, as well as health guidance on how they can support local production of these product.

  • is looking at other delivery options to make much-needed goods accessible, including re-routing, consolidation in charters and sea shipments.

  • is pre-positioning and shipping supplies to hubs and locations in as close proximity to programmatic activities as possible to reduce risk of travel restrictions affecting shipments, cost and shipping times. 

UNICEF increases its supply operations to respond to COVID-19.

Children need protection and we will continue to support them right around the world. But we cannot do this alone. Please help UNICEF protect and support children and families affected by Covid-19. https://www.unicef.org.nz/appeal/coronavirus-emergency