The Government of Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation, recently awarded three commercial contracts to two drone companies, Swoop Aero Pty Ltd. of Melbourne, Australia, and Wingcopter Holding GmbH & Co. KG of Darmstadt, Germany, to test last-mile vaccine deliveries for children living on remote islands.
On Dec. 5, Vanautu’s minister of health, Norris Jack Kalmet, officially opened the drone trials at an event with more than 100 community members, health workers and children present to witness the drones take to the sky for the first time.
“Vanuatu’s development plan, while setting out a vision for a stable, sustainable and prosperous country, demands innovative ways to reach children living in communities on remote islands,” said Prime Minister Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas. “It is a proud day for Vanuatu to launch these drone trials using commercial contracts, which will aim to bring lifesaving vaccines to our children.”
The project is led by Vanuatu’s Ministry of Health and the Civil Aviation Authority, with support from UNICEF; the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s innovationXchange; and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Vanuatu is an archipelago of 83 islands that cover 1,600 kilometers. Only about one-third of the inhabited islands have airfields and established roads, which creates considerable logistical challenges, explains UNICEF.
“In remote settings like this, safely getting vaccines and other essential medical supplies to children presents a unique set of challenges,” says Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Pacific representative. “We are proud to support the Government of Vanuatu in exploring new ways to get vaccines safely where they need to go, when they need to go.”
The initial drone trials took place Dec. 5-7. Packages similar to actual vaccines were transported from the old Takara airstrip on North Efate island and flown over Emao, Pele and Nguna islands to reach their destination, Siviri football field – covering a distance of about 50 kilometers.
The Ministry of Health and the Civil Aviation Authority of Vanuatu will consider the approval of the use of drones for the delivery of vaccines to health facilities on Epi and the Shepherds Islands, Erromango and Pentecost. In addition, the government aims have a better understanding of the potential for drones to be used for other sectors.