Wednesday 18 September witnessed the launch of a catalogued report on the commercial use of drones to deliver lifesaving vaccines to children living in remote areas.
Ensuring vital supplies at health facilities are consistently available is an on-going challenge for Vanuatu due to geography, logistics and high costs.
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.
In a global first, the Vanuatu Government awarded two international drone companies; Swoop Aero and Wingcopter, with commercial contracts to trial the use of drones delivering vaccines to remote distances.
The milestone event which was launched in Parliament on June 14 2017 by the Minister of Health, Jack Norris Kalmet, allowed the Government to assess the feasibility of drone-based logistics as an additional tool to reach remote communities and support delivery of equitable ‘last mile services.’
The first phase of the drone trials in December 2017 took place at the old Takara airstrip in North Efate, where the drones flew over the offshore islands of Emao, Pele and Nguna, dropping off a package at a cordoned off area at Siviri football field before returning to land at Takara.
The second phase of the trials which was completed in March 2019, transported vaccines to health facilities and communities on three islands: Erromango, Pentecost and Epi.
The project report is a summary sweep of the drone trials which deliberates a multitude of lessons learned and recommendations that may be useful to informing the next phase.
The report was launched by Prime Minister Charlot Salwai. He acknowledged the support of Vanuatu Drones Team led by the Ministry of Health (MoH) with close support from the Civil Aviation Authority of Vanuatu (CAAV), the UNICEF for providing assistance and funding and sourced significant contributions from the Australian Government and the Global Fund to support this initiative.
“The use of innovative technologies such as drones to facilitate delivery of services to mountain logged islands and remote villages is one of the central key policies of the Government today,” Mr Salwai remarked.
“Under the society policy objective 3.4 of the National Sustainability Plan calls for a need to build health sector capacity and systems to ensure the effective and efficient delivery of quality services to our citizens at large.
“At this stage, we realised the potential for wider use of drones, with urgent medical supplies delivered and redistributed across health facilities according to needs on-ground.
“We also realise that it is an opportunity to build capacity of our medical nurses who administered the services of drones.”
The PM noted that the trial concluded in March 2019, along with the results obtained demonstrated that the drone-based transport is technically and culturally viable in Vanuatu.