A one-month-old baby has become the first child in the world to ever be given a vaccine that was delivered by a commercial drone.
Joy Nowai, is from Vanuatu – a cluster of islands in the South Pacific, where one in five youngsters miss out on essential childhood jabs.
The drone took just 25 minutes to travel almost 24.8miles (40km) over rugged mountains until it reached the remote Cook’s Bay, which has no hospital or electricity.
Only accessible on foot or by small local boats, the same journey usually takes hours.
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One-month-old Joy Nowai (pictured left with her mother Julie Nowai, 28) is the first child ever to be given a vaccine delivered by a commercial drone. She is pictured right with her mother, father Samuel Nowai, 29, and eight-year-old sister Nelita at their home in Vanuatu
Joy, among with 12 other children and five pregnant women, were vaccinated after jabs were delivered by an Australia-made drone called Swoop Aero. Pictured is another drone – WingCopter – which also took part in the UNICEF-supported Vanuatu Drone Trials
Once landed, a nurse vaccinated 13 local children and five pregnant women against polio, TB, hepatitis B, measles and rubella.
Joy, who was born on November 15, was immunised against just TB and Hep B. These should have been given within a day of her birth but there were no nurses available.
Mrs Nowai said: ‘I was worried when baby Joy didn’t receive her first vaccine or child health book to record vaccines as the nurses were away. I know it’s important for her to be healthy.
‘I am so happy the drone brought the medicine to Cook’s Bay as I don’t have to walk several hours for her vaccine; it is only 15 minutes walk from my home.’
UNICEF, which supported the vaccine programme, said the innovation has the potential to be a ‘game changer’ in child health.
‘Today’s small flight by drone is a big leap for global health,’ the charity’s executive director Henrietta Fore said.
‘With the world still struggling to immunise the hardest to reach children, drone technologies can be a game changer for bridging that last mile to reach every child.
‘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.’
Nurse Miriam Nampil, 55, is pictured vaccinating Joy while she is being held by her mother
Vanuatu is a cluster of more than 80 mountainous islands in the South Pacific that cover 808miles (1,300km). Its terrain, along with its warm climate, make delivering jabs tricky
Drone use is already growing across an array of applications.
They range in size from something that could slip into your pocket right up to the behemoth weaponry used by militaries around the world.
And they are not only in the skies – they can also be found driving on the ground, inspecting sub-sea pipelines, crawling into tight gaps too dangerous for humans or even rocketing off to outer space.
They are used by emergency services, including search and rescue and tackling fires, through to innovations in agriculture, construction, humanitarian aid, wildlife preservation and personal security.
It is predicted that drones will spawn a £70billion ($100bn) industry by 2020.
E-commerce, package and fast food delivery have yet to fully develop in this sector but companies such as Google and Amazon are investing heavily in the application of drones.
Vaccines have to be stored at specific temperatures, which makes them difficult to transport.
Not only does Vanuatu have a warm climate but it is also made up of more than 80 mountainous islands covering 808miles (1,300km), which makes delivering jabs particularly tricky.
The drone took off from a remote village on the island of Erromango to Dillon’s Bay on the west of Vanuatu and then on to Cook’s Bay on the east side.
It was met by a cultural welcoming dance, with families travelling several kilometres to see the drone land.
Miriam Nampil, a registered nurse, who administered the vaccines, said: ‘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. As the journey is often long and difficult, I can only go there once a month to vaccinate children.’
The difficult journey means many youngsters in Vanuatu miss out on essential childhood vaccines.
‘But now, with these drones, we can hope to reach many more children in the remotest areas of the island,’ Ms Nampil, 55, said.
Ms Nampil is pictured giving a polio vaccine to nine-month-old Larissa while she is being held by her mother Amanda, 22. In total, 13 children and five pregnant women were immunised
Ms Nampil is pictured alongside nurse Narai Harry unpacking the vaccines from the drones
Drones carried the vaccines in Styrofoam boxes that contained ice packs and a temperature logger. An electronic indicator was triggered if the temperature swung out of an acceptable range.
Vanuatu’s Ministry of Health, with support from UNICEF, carried out the so-called Vanuatu Drone Trials with two drone operators – Swoop Aero and WingCopter – last week.
Swoop Aero – the Australian company behind Vanuatu’s drone delivery – passed the first phase of the trials by landing within two metres of the target after a 31mile (50km) flight over numerous islands.
This is the first time a government has paid for a commercial drone company to transport vaccines to remote areas.
The drone operators are selected after a bidding process and do not get paid if the vaccines are not delivered.
The Government of Vanuatu hopes to one day integrate drone vaccine delivery into its national immunisation programme, as well as to use drones more widely to distribute health supplies.
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