SYDNEY, Wednesay 19 December 2018:
One month old Joy Nowai, has became the first child in the world to be vaccinated with a vaccine delivered commercially by drone. The drone delivery was made to her home on the remote Pacific island of Erromango in the archipelago nation of Vanuatu.
The delivery was part of a project to trial commercial drone delivery of vaccines, led by Vanuatu’s Ministry of Health and the Civil Aviation Authority of Vanuatu, with support from UNICEF, the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) innovationXchange, and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Vaccines are difficult to transport as they need to be carried at specific temperatures. Vanuatu, which is a warm weather location, is a particularly difficult location for vaccine delivery. It is made up of more than 80 remote, mountainous islands stretching across 1,300 kilometers, with limited roads.. As a result, almost 20 per cent of the country’s children – or 1 in 5 – miss out on their essential childhood vaccines.*
“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.”
The vaccine delivery covered almost 40 kilometers of rugged mountainous terrain from Dillon’s Bay on the west side of Erromango Island to the east landing in remote Cook’s Bay. There, 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.
“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.”
During the drone flight on Erromango, the vaccines were carried in Styrofoam boxes containing ice-packs with a temperature logger. An electronic indicator is triggered if the temperature of the vaccines swings out of acceptable range.
In tests last 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 yesterday’s successful drone delivery, passed the first phase of trials by landing the payloads within 2 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,” added Fore. “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.”
Notes to editors
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* Vanuatu Vaccination Coverage Survey 2016.
For more information, please contact:
Cate Heinrich, UNICEF Pacific, +679 9925 606, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rebecca Olul, UNICEF Vanuatu Field Office, +678 24655, +678 77 666 04, email@example.com
Brinsley Marlay, UNICEF Australia, 0403 604 182, firstname.lastname@example.org