SYDNEY – Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific, has become the first country to use commercial drones to distribute vaccines, the United Nations Children’s Fund said on Wednesday.
Cate Heinrich, Chief of Communication for UNICEF Pacific, told EFE that the delivery took place on Tuesday and that one-month-old baby Joy Nowain was the first beneficiary to get vaccinated against tuberculosis and Hepatitis B in a remote village.
The drone, made by the Australian company Swoop Aero, carried a vaccine package to an area on Erromango Island, south of the archipelago where there are no suitable places to preserve this type of medicine.
A total of 13 children and five pregnant women were vaccinated with the help of the first drone delivery.
The drone flew more than 40 km (25 miles) over a mountainous area from west to east of the island and carried the vaccines in a polystyrene box with ice and an electronic indicator to measure temperature.
Vaccines are very vulnerable to temperature fluctuations, making their distribution difficult in countries such as Vanuatu, an archipelago with over 80 islands spread over 1,300 km, with poor communications.
“As a result, almost 20 percent of the country’s children miss out on these essential vaccines,” said UNICEF.
Although there have been drone deliveries of medical supplies in the past in other parts of the world, but it is the first time ever, that a government contracted a commercial drone company to transport vaccines to remote area and is set to become a stable service in the country.
Heinrich said this was the first time a government had hired a drone operator to specifically deliver vaccines and it opened the door to a sustainable model that could be applied elsewhere while giving the drone industry much more credibility.
The project is a joint collaboration between the Vanuatu government, UNICEF, Australia and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.