By Santo D. Banerjee
NEW YORK | PORT VILA (IDN) – One month old Joy Nowai has become the world’s first child to be given a vaccine delivered commercially by drone in a remote island in the South Pacific country of Vanuatu, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported on December 18.
The vaccine delivery through the state-of-the-art craft covered almost 40 kilometres of rugged mountainous terrain from Dillon’s Bay on the west side of the island to the east landing in remote Cook’s Bay, where 13 children and five pregnant women were vaccinated by Miriam Nampil, a registered nurse.
Cook’s Bay, a small, scattered community that does not have a health centre or electricity, is only accessible by foot or small local boats.
“Today’s small flight by drone is a big leap for global health,” said Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “With the world still struggling to immunize the hardest to reach children, drone technologies can be a game changer for bridging that last mile to reach every child,” she added.
Vaccines are difficult to transport as they need to be carried at specific temperatures. Warm weather locations like Vanuatu, which is made up of more than 80 remote, mountainous islands stretching across 1,300 kilometres and with limited roads, is a particularly difficult location for vaccine delivery. As a result, almost 20 per cent of the country’s children – or 1 in 5 – miss out on their essential childhood vaccines.
“It’s extremely hard to carry ice boxes to keep the vaccines cool while walking across rivers, mountains, through the rain, across rocky ledges. I’ve relied on boats, which often get cancelled due to bad weather,” said Miriam Nampil, the nurse who injected the world’s first drone-delivered vaccine.
”As the journey is often long and difficult, I can only go there once a month to vaccinate children. But now, with these drones, we can hope to reach many more children in the remotest areas of the island,” she added.
During the drone flight on Erromango, the vaccines were carried in Styrofoam boxes with ice-packs with a temperature logger. An electronic indicator is triggered if the temperature of the vaccines swings out of acceptable range.
In tests previous week, the Ministry of Health, with support from UNICEF, conducted drone trials with two drone operators, Swoop Aero and WingCopter, using test payloads.
Swoop Aero, the Australian company responsible for December 18 successful drone delivery, passed the first phase of trials by landing the payloads within two meters of the target after a 50-km flight over numerous islands and way points.
This is also the first time globally that a government is contracting a commercial drone company to transport vaccines to remote areas. The drone operators are selected after a bidding process, and as per the contract, they are held accountable and not paid if they don’t deliver.
In the long term, the Government of Vanuatu is interested in integrating the drone delivery of vaccines into their national immunization programme and using drones more widely to distribute health supplies. The data from the trials will also be used to show how drones can be used commercially in similar settings around the world.
“Today’s first-of-a-kind vaccine delivery has enormous potential not only for Vanuatu, but also for the thousands of children who are missing out on vaccines across the world,” UNICEF Executive Director Fore said.
“This is innovation at its best, and shows how we can unlock the potential of the private sector for the greater good of the world’s children.”
UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. “Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone,” says UNICEF. [IDN-InDepthNews – 19 December 2018]
Photo: World’s first drone-delivered vaccine in Vanuatu. The vaccine delivery covered almost 40 kilometres of rugged mountainous terrain from Dillon’s Bay on the west side of the island to the east landing in remote Cook’s Bay. UNICEF/Pacific
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
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