Vanuatu will be the first country in the Pacific to begin using drones to deliver vaccines and critical medical supplies to its remote areas.
The inability to deliver needed vaccines from town to children at remote locations due to the lack of adequate transportation and poor infrastructure makes the government turn to drones for service delivery.
These are Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS) that are designed to deliver vaccines via pre-programmed missions.
While drones will be flown remotely, distributing health products, many people in Vanuatu have never seen one before. The need to educate the rural community on the use of drones was highlighted during the launch of the national piloted aerial system at the Parliament House in Port Vila yesterday.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Utilities (MIPU) will be implementing the initiative with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
MIPU, through the Civil Aviation Authority Vanuatu (CAAV) is applauded for ensuring the drone trial is carried out in the nation’s airspace.
Minister of Health, Jerome Ludvaune, mentioned the need to amend regulations governing the use of UAVs in Vanuatu.
The drone trial is scheduled to begin in August this year (2017) at Takara in north Efate.
According to the Director of CAAV, Joseph Niel, who is also the Acting Director General (DG) of MIPU, an open technical trial will be issued to drone companies wishing to expand their market to participate by flying over north Efate and deliver against certain criteria.
“A request for proposal for ‘real-life’ scene which vaccines will be delivered to health staff on targeted islands (will be) in February and March 2018 as part of the second phase.
“The islands are Erromango, Pentecost and Epi.
“During the trial’s final phase, a contract will be issued to one company found competent to undertake national drone vaccine delivery later in 2018.
“The plan is to focus initially on Sanma Province before others.
“Sanma is subjected to all challenges hindering the national vaccination program,” said Mr Niel.
If the trial finds drone to be a more favorable way of vaccine delivery, and that it can be integrated into the existing national and provincial systems, then it will change the way
the MOH operates, said the MOH Director General, George Taleo.