First Drone Delivery of Vaccines on the Island of Vanuatu

To many parents living in urbanized and developed neighborhoods, a 25-mile walk to the closest clinic for their child’s vaccinations is unheard of. But there are many people who live in remote parts of the world that are inaccessible via cars and delivery trucks.  But thanks to a specialized drone, making medical deliveries can now be fast, simple and safe. This was the case on December 18, 2018, when a 1-month-old baby named Joy Nowai on the island country of Vanuatu received their vaccinations for tuberculosis and hepatitis by drone delivery.

The drone flew over 40 kilometers above a rugged, hilly terrain. This was the first ever government contracted drone delivery of vaccines.  According to reports by the country’s Ministry of Health, one in every five children born does not get vaccinated. The main reason being the inaccessibility of healthcare services and the rough terrain that hinders government health providers to deliver their services to these remote villages on the Island.

In a quest to reach 100% vaccination status on the island, the Vanuatu government along with the Ministry of Health and the Civil Aviation Authority has turned to Swoop Aero, an Australian drone manufacturer, to launch a drone delivery medical program. The drones will provide medical treatment supplies as well as vaccinations.

The historical delivery that took place was in a remote area of the island known as Cook’s Bay.  Thirteen children and five expectant mothers were vaccinated in a location that has no healthcare facilities. The nurse who administered the vaccines, Miriam Nampil, explained how the drone delivery system has eased a rather impossible feat of transporting vaccines in ice boxes across rocky ledges, rain forests, rivers and more. The Vanuatu government is now set to incorporate drone  delivery into its national immunization program and have a wider distribution network of medical supplies. Their trial exercise on the 18th of December has resulted in other governments wanting to take part. Governments in Ghana, Rwanda New Guinea, and Malawi are working on plans to deploy drone deliveries of blood samples and other medical supplies to doctors in rural locations.

Unicef’s executive director made it clear that there is tremendous potential in drone deliveries not only in Vanuatu but also in other remote areas across the globe that have in the past faced similar challenges. Thanks to drones, medical supply deliveries will definitely cause a huge increase in vaccination rates which could potentially benefit thousands if not millions of people worldwide.

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