Delivering lifesaving vaccines and health supplies to remote communities

Port Vila, 14 June 2017: The Vanuatu Government will make history today by launching what may be the first ever trial in the Pacific to test the capacity, efficiency and effectiveness of drones to deliver lifesaving vaccines to inaccessible remote communities in Vanuatu. 

Vanuatu will test Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS), commonly referred to as “drones”, and the services offered by that industry using an important commodity – lifesaving vaccines. Successful applicants are being challenged to demonstrate the value and suitability of the drones in solving a key development issue – the supply of vital vaccines to children in otherwise inaccessible communities.

“The Parliament of Vanuatu is proud to be hosting the national launch that will pilot the wide application of the drone technology to solving logistical constraints faced by a small island development state like Vanuatu,” stated Hon. Esmon Saimon, Speaker of Vanuatu Parliament. “I would like to especially acknowledge the Ministries of Public Utilities and Infrastructure and Health for taking the lead on such an important project to help us in delivering vaccines to remote rural communities of Vanuatu,” he added.

“UNICEF is excited to work with the Government of Vanuatu to support this initiative. Ensuring vaccines are consistently available in isolated and remote communities is one of the keys to sustaining high rates of immunisation. We welcome innovative measures to ensure that every child is reached,” said UNICEF Pacific Representative, Sheldon Yett.

Director General of the Ministry of Health, George Taleo stated, “This is a milestone for Vanuatu. If the trial shows that vaccine delivery using drones can work, and that it can be integrated into our existing national and provincial systems, then it will change the way we operate forever. If it works, we will allow us to better ensure availability of health supplies to our people even at community aid post levels.”

Increasing availability, performance and declining cost of drones offer innovative opportunities for applications in challenging environments such as Vanuatu. An archipelago of 83 islands that run 1,600 kilometres north to south, 65 of which are inhabited and around 20 of which have airfields and established roads, Vanuatu faces considerable logistical challenges to reach, engage with and support remote communities. This initiative explores options that allow the government to enhance service delivery and significantly reduce costs as it does not require massive investment in infrastructure and transport. 

The trial will be conducted in three phases: a technical trial in August when drones will be flying over North Efate Island and scored against various performance criterias; a request for proposal through which vaccines will be delivered to health staff on targeted islands in February and March 2018; and a three to six month use of UAVs in regular provincial deliveries of health supplies later in 2018.  The initiative is led by the Government through Ministry of Health and Ministry of Infrastructure & Public Utilities, with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund.

For more information, please contact:
Rebecca Olul, UNICEF Vanuatu Field Office, +678 24655, +678 77 666 04, rolul@unicef.org

For more information on the Vanuatu drone challenge and application process, please go to: http://unicefstories.org/drones/vanuatu/