Could the Malaria Roadmap program be aided by vaccine deliveries by drones?

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Last week in Honiara the DCGA’s Malaria Roadmap was launched by His Royal Highness Prince Charles and, in a concerted effort to rid malaria from the Solomon Islands by 2050, a target date announced by the previous Prime Minister, the Hon, Rick Hou, when he spoke at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London last year, I can quite imagine much work will be needed by public health officials in delivering vaccines to the remote reaches of the country.

In Vanuatu where there is also an ongoing drive to eradicate malaria, it was reported that up to 20 percent of children missed out on getting vaccines before because of the remote areas in which they live.

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Photo: Supplied

 The situation prompted the government to hire an Australian company to deliver much needed vaccines to remote places using drones.

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 I understand that with support from UNICEF, the Australian government and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a drone program began operating in Vanuatu last year and initially served three islands.

Photo: Supplied

I was interested to learn more of this interested development and came across some information in the publication ‘Global Health’ and a piece by Donald G.McNeill Jr.who wrote, quote.

“In the village of Cooks Bay, on the remote side of the remote island of Erromango, in the remote South Pacific nation of Vanuatu, 1-month-old Joy Nowai was given shots for hepatitis and tuberculosis that were delivered by a flying drone .

“It may not have been the first vial of vaccine ever delivered that way, but it was the first in Vanuatu, which is the only country in the world to make its childhood vaccine program officially drone-dependent.

“I am so happy the drone brought the stick medicine to Cook’s Bay as I don’t have to walk several hours to Port Narvin for her vaccines,” her mother, Julie Nowai told a Unicef representative. “It is only 15 minutes’ walk from my home.”

“Even paradise can be tough on vaccinators. Vanuatu is an archipelago of 83 volcanic islands. Many villages are reachable only by “banana boats,” single-engine skiffs that 12-foot waves sometimes roll over or smash into cliffs. Other villages are at the end of mountain footpaths that become bogs when it rains, which it does a lot.

“Also, many vaccines need refrigeration, and most villages have no electricity.

For those reasons, about 20 percent of Vanuatu’s 35,000 children under age 5 do not get all their shots, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Unlike military drones — which fly high and sometimes fire missiles — commercial drones must venture in low, dodge trees, land gently and even return with payloads, such as blood samples.

 “With its eight-foot wingspan, the white Swoop drone resembles a robot albatross. But it lacks that bird’s calm, ghostly floating flight pattern.

“Instead, it shrieks with the enraged buzz of a disturbed hornets’ nest as it shoots straight up in the air and zooms off at speeds of up to 60 miles an hour.”

“It can maintain 500 feet of altitude in the hot tropical climate and can handle rain and 30-mile-an-hour gusts, said Eric Peck, a former Australian Air Force pilot who founded Swoop with Josh Tepper, a drone racer and robotics expert.

“The drone will soon be doing 80-mile round trips, Mr. Peck said, and because it communicates with the Iridium satellite network, it can be piloted from anywhere in the world and will fly even if local cell networks go down, which happens frequently.”

Donald G.McNeill Jr

As drones have improved, their potential uses in global health and have rapidly increased, and many countries and charitable groups are considering them, apart from Vanuatu. I wonder whether, one day, the Solomon Islands might be able to take advantage of using drones to deliver vaccines in support of the Malaria Roadmap program.
Could Unicef and the Australian government consider helping us?

Yours sincerely

Frank Short

What you think?

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