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Jospeh Hing and Rebecca Olul introiducing the chgildren of Epi to the magic of drones and how they will be part of a world first drone delivery of vaccines trial to be held in Vanuatu. Credit: UNICEFPacific/2018/Chute

When Unicef Australia contacted us earlier this year to try and encourage applications for a drone delivery project, DRONELIFE was happy to help.  It’s a project that showcases the very best of drone technology – providing critical healthcare to communities without good transportation infrastructure, in a low-cost and low-environmental impact way.

The country of Vanuatu is a stunning landscape – but the island country in the Pacific, an archipelago of 83 islands that covers 1,600 kilometres, has airfields and established roads on only about one-third of the inhabited islands.  The landscape “creates considerable logistical challenges to reach, engage with and support remote communities,” says Unicef.

Midwife Roslinda Narwayen, Vaimali Health Centre, Epi Island. Roslinda and her assistant on a 3 hour hike down the coastline to deliver vaccines for an MCH clinic at Ngala village. Because there are no fridges store vaccines, the vaccines must be administered immediatey at journeys end. She spent three days trying to contact the nurse at the distant health centre but because of limited communication network, she decided to just go. Credit: UNICEFPacific/2018/Chute

In order to provide vaccinations to the children of Vanuatu, midwives travel over challenging terrain by foot, carrying the vaccines in insulated bags.  With no refridgeration available, the vaccines must be administered immediately upon arrival.

Drones are an obvious choice to solve the problem.  Proven successful on the African continent, drone delivery of medical supplies is a reliable and inexpensive way to provide delivery services without road infrastructure.  After receiving over 20 bids for the project, the Vanuatu government has awarded two contracts to “Swoop Aero Pty Ltd of Melbourne, which will cover vaccine delivery to health facilities on Epi and the Shepherd Islands as well as Erromango Island,” says Unicef. “Wingcopter Holding GmbH & Co. KG of Darmstadt, Germany, was awarded the third contract to deliver vaccines to facilities on Pentecost Island.”

“The first phase of the drone trials will take place during the week of 3-7 December when these two drone companies will test the viability of delivering vaccines to inaccessible areas.”

Credit: UNICEFPacific/2018/Chute

“UNICEF is proud to partner with the Vanuatu Government in such an innovative initiative to trial drones for delivering a reliable supply of vaccines to children living in remote communities,” said UNICEF Pacific Representative, Sheldon Yett.

“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,” he added. “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 following is taken from a media release:

“Ensuring vital supplies at health facilities are consistently available is an ongoing challenge for Vanuatu due to geography, logistics and high costs,” said 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.”

During the first phase of the drone trials in December, drones will take off from the old Takara airstrip, North Efate. Flying over the offshore islands of Emao, Pele and Nguna drones will drop off a package at a cordoned off area at Siviri football field returning to land at Takara. The second phase of the trial, which will transport vaccines to health facilities on the three islands, is expected to commence in early January 2019.

The drone trials will engage health care workers from the facilities on the selected islands, as well as teachers, children and government officials, which is vital to share knowledge and expertise.

This initiative is led by Vanuatu’s Ministry of Health and Ministry of Infrastructure & Public Utilities through the Civil Aviation Authority of Vanuatu. Technical support and financing are provided by UNICEF and the Australian Government’s InnovationXchange Accelerator Fund.