International drone companies Wingcopter and Swoop Aero have been awarded commercial contracts to trial the use of drones to take life-saving vaccines to children living in remote locations.
Awarded by the Vanuatu Government, the Swoop Aero contract sets out a plan that will cover vaccine delivery to health facilities on Epi and the Shepherd Islands as well as Erromango Island.
The Wingcopter contract will cover vaccine delivery to facilities on Pentecost Island.
The first phase of the drone trials will take place during the week commencing December 3, when the two drone companies will test the viability of delivering vaccines to inaccessible areas.
On partnering with the project, UNICEF’s pacific representative, Sheldon Yett, said: “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.
He added: “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. Every child in the world has the right to lifesaving vaccines and this technology is a step towards reaching those children most at risk.”
Through a competitive process, the Government had to choose from a total of twenty bids from drone companies around the world who wanted to help with the programme.
George Taleo, director general of the Ministry of Health in Vanuatu, said: “Ensuring vital supplies at health facilities are consistently available is an ongoing challenge for Vanuatu due to geography, logistics and high costs.”
He continued: “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.”
Vanuatu is an island country in the Pacific, an archipelago of 83 islands that covers 1,600 kilometres. About one-third of the inhabited islands have airfields and established roads, which creates considerable logistical challenges to reach, engage with and support remote communities.
During the first phase of the drone trials in December, drones will take off from the old Takara airstrip in North Efate and fly over the offshore islands of Emao, Pele and Nguna and 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.