Vaccines are truly some of the miracles of modern medicine. It has been estimated that at least 2.5 million deaths are prevented every year through the use of the proper vaccines. When you look at the diseases of Measles and Rubella, it is hard to overstate their importance in terms of saving lives. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that, since 2000, at least 17.1 million lives have been saved by vaccines in medical freezers around the world. When researchers have looked at deaths from these illnesses, they found that, between 2000 and 2014, the number of people who died due to these infections dropped by nearly 80%. During that time, the number of lives lost to these diseases went from 546,800 to just 114, 900.
This month, for the first time ever, a baby has been saved in a remote area by a drone carrying vaccines. The baby, a one-year-old living on Vanuatu, a remote island in the Pacific Ocean, made history when she received the shipment from a commercial company.
While the island does have the right medical freezers and pharmacy grade refrigerators, access to the place is very limited. The child lives near Cook’s Bay and, normally this area can only be reached by boats that are owned or operated by local companies. In addition to helping the little girl, fine pregnant women and 13 kids also received vaccines from the same shipment. The area is known for its lack of access to quality health care.
Swoop Aero was contracted by the government of Australia to make the delivery. This is also the very first time a government has worked with a private, commercial company to use drones to help deliver vaccines to such a remote location. This is all a part of the government of Vanuatu to incorporate commercial drones delivering vaccines into their efforts to improve vaccinations and bring more medical equipment, such as medical freezers, vaccine storage refrigerators, scientific freezers, and laboratory refrigerators.
As important as vaccines are, moving them from one place to another poses certain problems that are not found when moving other kinds of medical supplies. There are a few reasons for this. The main issue is keeping the vaccine at the right temperature. This can be extremely challenging in places such as Vanuatu, where the climate is warm, the number of passable roads is low, and some areas do not have access to the right medical freezers.
It is important to note that the country of Vanuatu is made up of at least 80 separate islands. It has been estimated that all of this means that about 20% of the population of children do not have access to important vaccines.
Joy Nowai, the one-year-old who was vaccinated by the drone delivery, was very lucky. UNICEF’s Executive Director, Henrietta H. Fore commented on the development and new drone delivery. She said that this is a “first-of-a-kind vaccine delivery” and noted that this opens up the world to a host of new options for the delivery of vaccines and a number of other treatments to remote locations all over the world. She said, “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.”
The nurse who gave Nowai the vaccine, Miriam, Nampil, remarked that it can be very difficult to move vaccines around the country of Vanuatu. She said it is hard to keep the medicine at the right temperature as people have to cart around large quantities of ice. They have to trek over mountains, rocky hills and peaks, and rivers. She added that the drones make all of that a think of the past and en get the vaccines where they are most needed.
Many other parts of the developing world are looking to drones to help with their health care issues. Zipline, an American company, is set to partner up with the government of Ghana to deliver much needed medical supplies such as blood, medications, and other items to hospitals around that nation. The country of Rwanda has been using drones to move blood and other needed supplies to medical centers and doctors around the nation.