A baby in a remote South Pacific island village received vaccines for hepatitis and tuberculosis after a first-of-its-kind drone delivery Monday. Aid organizations have long used military drones to deliver vaccines, but the 1-year-old girl, named Joy Nowai, was the first child to receive a vaccine delivered by a commercial drone, according to UNICEF. “Today's small flight by drone is a big leap for global health," UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.
Island nations — like Vanuatu, where Joy lives — have limited roads, often winding across mountainous terrain, which makes transportation difficult. Plus, many vaccines need to be refrigerated, which can be impossible in remote areas that lack electricity. In Vanuatu, nearly 20 percent of children go without their essential childhood vaccines, according to UNICEF.
Joy’s vaccines were tucked into Styrofoam containers along with ice packs and a temperature logger as they zipped 25 miles above the ground in the small unmanned craft. Drone operator Swoop Aero, which won a first-of-its-kind commercial contract with the government to transport vaccines to remote areas, made the delivery.
In total, 13 children and five pregnant women in the community were vaccinated.
“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,” Fore added. “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.”
Commercial drones are already becoming a linchpin in some public health delivery systems across the globe. The company Zipline drops paper parachutes fitted with blood for transfusions in drone flights over Rwanda, according to the New York Times.
Cover image: (Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)