A collaboration which included the Ministry of Health, VillageReach and Swoop Aero, with funding by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has vaccinated the first children receiving vaccines by drone in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The successful flights, which took place in the northwestern province of Équateur, are part of a broader strategy to reach remote populations with vaccines and other medicines called Nouvelle Génération des Chaînes d’Approvisionnement, or NGCA.
The drone demonstrations highlight continued innovation to improve health, in the midst of the recent public health emergency declaration by the World Health Organization due to an Ebola outbreak.
A fleet of drones transported vaccines, syringes and medicines to a hard-to-reach Congolese village called Widjifake with 6,500 residents, where children were vaccinated.
Each drone flight to Widjifake safely delivered vaccines–maintained at the right temperature for efficacy–in around 20 minutes, expediting what is typically a three-hour journey by road.
The drones completed four round-trip test flights of 80 kilometers each in one day.
This is in addition to 17 round-trip flights, reaching approximately 2,000 kilometers, flown over recent weeks.
Swoop Aero’s drones have vertical take-off and landing capability, which allows them to land directly at the health center in Widjifake and also return to the Provincial Health Division of Equateur with lab samples, data collection forms, and requests for medicines needed.
Yuma Ramazani, secretary general for health, commented: “One of the key focus areas of the National Health Development Plan is to reduce maternal and infant mortality. The Ministry of Health welcomes this innovation that facilitates the transport of vaccines and other essential health products through drones to overcome accessibility challenges in Equateur’s hard-to-reach communities.”
Adding: “This will bring essential health care closer to the population in order to improve universal health coverage.”