Vanuatu to trial drone delivery of vaccines to remote islands
Of all the potential uses for drones, using them to deliver life-saving medicines in developing countries is not only one of the most promising, it is also one of the most well progressed. The government of Vanuatu is now set to see what all the buzz about, announcing plans to trial vaccine-carrying drones before the year is out.
The new trials will follow in the footsteps of similar drone-delivery services being trialed in Tanzania and Rwanda, where authorities are looking to overcome logistical problems posed by rough terrain and lack of road infrastructure.
In trying to provide vulnerable communities with healthcare, Vanuatu, too, has to contend with logistical issues brought on by its unique geography. As an archipelago made up of 83 islands, and only a third of the inhabited ones equipped with airfields and established roads, supplying medicines to people in need is tricky business.
So the Vanuatu Government has partnered with UNICEF to explore new ways of doing things. It has awarded commercial contracts to two drone companies, Australia's Swoop Aero and Germany's Wingcopter, to kick off trials designed to test the viability of using unmanned aircraft to deliver vaccines to otherwise inaccessible areas.
"The challenges of reaching children in the remote islands of Vanuatu are immense, nurses often walk several hours to deliver vaccines to health clinics in these communities," says UNICEF Pacific Representative, Sheldon Yett. "Every child in the world has the right to lifesaving vaccines and this technology is a step towards reaching those children most at risk."
The trials will begin in the first week of December, when drones will take off from the north end of the island of Efate, fly over three smaller islands off the coast and deposit a package on a cordoned off area of a football field before returning to land. Following that, a second phase will take place in early January where drones will deliver vaccines to health facilities on those same off-shore islands.
"Ensuring vital supplies at health facilities are consistently available is an ongoing challenge for Vanuatu due to geography, logistics and high costs," says Director General of the Ministry of Health in Vanuatu, George Taleo. "An important step for dealing with some of these challenges to providing healthcare to vulnerable communities is looking at innovative ways such as the use of drones."