UNICEF is working with the Vanuatu government on a groundbreaking project in the hope it will save lives – using drones to deliver vaccines.
“If it works it will be massive, it will be huge, it will be another step ensuring that all children get the vaccinations they have a right to and deserve,” Sheldon Yett, Unicef Pacific representative says.
UNICEF has already run successful drone trials in Malawi in Africa to transport HIV/Aids blood samples.
It plans to do the same thing with vaccines in the Pacific with trials starting in Vanuatu in June.
“It’s very important to go in a methodical method and do small trials, making sure that the vaccines can be delivered safely making sure the vaccines don’t get lost, making sure they stay cold,” says Mr Yett.
Some Pacific communities are inaccessible by road, and it’s not unusual for remote medical centres to run out of supplies with sometimes serious consequences.
In Vanuatu, just over half of one year olds have been immunised for measles compared to an average of 90 per cent in the wider region.
“Sepsis is a huge thing in the Pacific setting whether it’s bacterial or whether it’s from malaria and all various vector borne diseases, so to send the drone out to take supplies to areas, I think will be fantastic,” says Dr Alec Ekeroma.
Medical authorities believe that as long as drones don’t replace supply chains it could be a major boost for the Pacific.
“If it works in Vanuatu it will work in Tonga, in Fiji and all the other Pacific Islands that are so decimated,” says Dr Ekeroma.
Drones have already been used in Vanuatu to access cyclone damage but carrying precious cargo on board is a different story.
The drones will be expected to fly more than 30km to different delivery sites carrying a vaccine package weighing about two kilos.
If the mid-year tests are successful real vaccines will be delivered to three sites early next year, making a difference to those who need it most.