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PORT VILA, Vanuatu: December 21, 2018. This week the world’s first child to be given a vaccine delivered commercially by drone took place in the South Pacific country of Vanuatu.

UNICEF contracted Australian drone operator Swoop Aero to fly the vaccines BCG and Hepatitis B almost 40 kilometers over mountainous terrain from Dillon’s Bay on the west side of the island to the east landing in remote Cook’s Bay, only accessible by foot or small local boats.

UNICEF drone delivery Vanautu“Today’s small flight by drone is a big leap for global health,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director. “With the world still struggling to immunize the hardest to reach children, drone technologies can be a game changer for bridging that last mile to reach every child.”

Vanuatu, which is made up of more than 80 remote, mountainous islands stretching across 1,300 kilometers and with limited roads, is a particularly difficult location for vaccine delivery. As a result, almost 20 percent of the country’s children miss out on essential childhood vaccines.

“It’s extremely hard to carry ice boxes to keep the vaccines cool while walking across rivers, mountains, through the rain, across rocky ledges. I’ve relied on boats, which often get cancelled due to bad weather,” said Miriam Nampil, the nurse who injected the world’s first drone-delivered vaccine.
”As the journey is often long and difficult, I can only go there once a month to vaccinate children. But now, with these drones, we can hope to reach many more children in the remotest areas of the island.”

UNICEF had earlier conducted drone trials with two operators, Swoop Aero and WingCopter and chose the former because it had managed to land test payloads within two metres of the target after a 50 kilometres flight over numerous islands and waypoints.

“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,” added Fore. “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.”

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