Pacific News Minute: Vanuatu Starts Trial to Deliver Vaccines to Remote Areas By Drone

Dec 20, 2018

Credit Airman Eugene Oliver / U.S. Air Force

This week, Vanuatu started a trial program that uses drones to deliver vaccines to remote areas. An estimated 20 percent of the country’s children go without vaccines because their homes are just too difficult to get to.

The first flight flew about 25 miles from Dillion’s Bay on the west side of Erromango Island, over a mountain and rivers, to Cook’s Bay – on the East side.

Nurse Miriam Nampil unloaded hepatitis and tuberculosis vaccine from the drone, which also carried ice packs to keep the medicines cold and a temperature monitor to tell her whether they’d stayed that way. The 55-year-old nurse was quoted by the New York Times, “This drone will change my life,” she said. “Normally I must trek about two hours over the mountain each way and the vaccine carriers are heavy.”  

Vanuatu’s population of about 250,000 includes many small communities in remote areas on more than 80 islands. With support from UNICEF, the Australian Government and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Vanuatu contracted an Australian drone company, Aero Swoop. After this week’s trial run, the program will expand to three islands in January. 

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore
Credit BETSYFITZ / Wikimedia Commons

While medicine has been delivered by drone before, this is thought to be the first commercial contract for routine vaccination. The first delivery immunized 13 children and five pregnant women in a community that does not have a health clinic or electricity. 

A press release quotes UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore describing the test flight as a big leap for global health, and hoping that the program could be adopted by other countries. “With the world struggling to immunize the hardest to reach children, drone technologies can be a game changer for bridging that last mile to reach every child.”