Vanuatu becomes site of world’s first drone-delivered vaccine

By Folake Dosu  |  December 28, 2018

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Joy Nowai may only be one month old, but she is already in the history books. UNICEF reports that she became the world’s first child to receive a vaccine via commercial drone delivery in a remote island in Vanuatu, a country in the South Pacific.

“Today’s small flight by drone is a big leap for global health,” said Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “With the world still struggling to immunize the hardest to reach children, drone technologies can be a game changer for bridging that last mile to reach every child.”

The drone made its way over nearly 40 kilometers of mountainous terrain from Dillon’s Bay on the island’s west side to the east landing in remote Cook’s Bay. Awaiting the delivery was registered nurse Miriam Nampil, who vaccinated 13 children and five pregnant women. Cook’s Bay lacks a health center and electricity. To access this small, disparate community, one must travel by foot or small local boats.

These difficulties in transportation are the norm in Vanuatu, whose warm climate, mountainous terrain and lack of infrastructure on its more than 80 remote islands, has been uniquely trying for public health. Nearly 1 in 5 children from this country do not receive recommended childhood vaccines as a result.  

“It’s extremely hard to carry ice boxes to keep the vaccines cool while walking across rivers, mountains, through the rain, across rocky ledges. I’ve relied on boats, which often get cancelled due to bad weather,” said Miriam Nampil, the nurse who injected the world’s first drone-delivered vaccine. ”As the journey is often long and difficult, I can only go there once a month to vaccinate children. But now, with these drones, we can hope to reach many more children in the remotest areas of the island.”

“Today’s first-of-a-kind vaccine delivery has enormous potential not only for Vanuatu, but also for the thousands of children who are missing out on vaccines across the world. This is innovation at its best, and shows how we can unlock the potential of the private sector for the greater good of the world’s children.”

According to UNICEF, this also marks the first time globally that a government has hired a commercial drone company for vaccine transport to remote areas. For this drone delivery, Australia-based Swoop Aero had the honors.

“Today’s first-of-a-kind vaccine delivery has enormous potential not only for Vanuatu, but also for the thousands of children who are missing out on vaccines across the world,” added Fore. “This is innovation at its best, and shows how we can unlock the potential of the private sector for the greater good of the world’s children.”

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