Drone trials for vaccine delivery postponed

Image: UNICEF

The drone trials for vaccine delivery to remote areas of Vanuatu which was initially planned to happen this month, has been postponed until early 2018.

This is part of a national initiative of improving vaccination coverage in Vanuatu where geographical isolation is hindering efficient primary health care.

Vanuatu will be the first country in the Pacific to be using this technology once its rolled out next year.

The Government will be testing the capacity, efficiency and effectiveness of delivering vaccines using drones with technical and financial support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The implementing agencies are the Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Utilities (MIPU), through the Civil Aviation Authority Vanuatu (CAAV) and the Ministry of Health (MOH).

Drones are commonly referred to as Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems.

Following the drone initiative announcement this year, at least 13 drone companies from different countries applied to participate in the self-funded drone challenge, of which eight were issued with formal invitations to demonstrate capabilities of their drones in Vanuatu.

Logistical challenges and costs encountered have caused majority of these participants to withdraw resulting in the delay, it was revealed.

The Director General of the MOH, George Taleo, said in a statement that the government looks forward to working with UNICEF and drone companies to identify solutions to these logistical challenges.

Over the next few months the implementing agencies will have the opportunity to enhance the design of the drone trials and adapt the next stages of the challenge to accommodate better the specific needs of prospective participants, said the Director of CAAV, Joseph Niel.

“A robust selection process should also allow for the trials to be held successfully early next year,” he said.

The objective of the challenge remains unchanged with an end-goal of greater and more efficient vaccination of children, according to the statement

“The drone industry continuously evolves with advances through research and development.

“Refinement of the Vanuatu challenge with the benefit of industry inputs will reflect and explore flexibility in cargo carrying advances with a focus on vaccine supply chains,” the statement cited.

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