Drones carrying precious vaccines will soon be taking to the skies over Vanuatu, in a world-first trial that has the potential to revolutionize healthcare for isolated islanders in the Pacific.
The Vanuatuan government has signed contracts with two commercial drone companies and asked them to deliver temperature-sensitive vaccines to 39 remote villages that health workers often take days to access by car, boat or on foot.
Unicef has been instrumental in setting up the trial and said the drone technology had “massive” potential in the Pacific and around the globe.
The nation of Vanuatu consists of an archipelago of 83 islands spread over 1,300 square kilometers. Only one third of the county is accessible by air and road, making delivery of vital healthcare services a logistical challenge.
Andrew Parker, the chief of of Unicef’s field office, said vaccines were chosen as the first medicine for drone delivery because they were “delicate”, expensive and hard to transport safely, needing to remain at between two and eight degrees.
Parker said the trials were hugely exciting but there were also significant risks involved, including that the drones would alarm locals, that expensive drones could be lost over the sea or remote mountain areas, as well as their reliability flying in tropical storms and high winds.
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