Drones for Health
Delivering Vaccines to a Remote Island Requires Innovative Solutions
In Vanuatu, an archipelago of 83 volcanic islands in the South Pacific Ocean, delivery logistics are a major impediment to childhood vaccines. Many villages are reachable only by single-engine skiffs. Others are only accessible by mountain paths that become bogs during the rainy seasons. And only one-third of inhabited islands have airfields and established roads. Making delivery even more complicated is the fact that many vaccines require refrigeration. As a result, about 20 percent of Vanuatu’s children don’t get all their shots.
One project team thinks drones could be the solution. Australian startup Swoop Aero recently completed a project to design a drone capable of delivering vaccines to villages across the remote archipelago. The resulting drone is designed to fly low, avoid trees and similar obstacles, and land gently—while carrying at least 5 pounds of vaccines, ice packs and a temperature monitor. To avoid problems with patchy local cell networks, the drone communicates with the Iridium satellite network, so it can be flown from anywhere in the world even if local cell networks go down. Swoop Aero made its first pilot flight in December. And now, in a program sponsored by UNICEF, the Australian government, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the drones will be rolled out on delivery routes across three islands.
The project is one of the first in what some predict could be a wave of drone-delivered humanitarian efforts. Zipline began drone delivery of blood for transfusions in Rwanda in 2018 and plans to expand into Ghana this year. And UNICEF has established a “drone test corridor” in Malawi to study delivery of other supplies.
Swoop Aero team and its drone
PHOTO COURTESY OF SWOOP AERO