is upwards

Mother saved: medication delivery by drone

20 September 2019

Mother saved: medication delivery by drone

When we were asked whether we could transport chemotherapy medication in regional Australia, we answered yes; but then we took the question a step further: how can we design a system to deliver these essential medical supplies by air, safely, reliably, and cost-effectively, every day of the week?

Our focus became regional and remote areas; locations where infrastructure, geography, and isolation make it difficult for locals to access basic healthcare support and services, such as Vanuatu in the South Pacific.

In 2018, the Vanuatuan Ministry of Health (MoH) began trialling vaccine deliveries using drones in a bid to revolutionise the way they deliver healthcare [link to video]. Our service was one of two chosen to participate in the trial and help the MoH determine if a long-term solution would be cost-effective and feasible.

Beautiful Epi Island was chosen as one of the test zones. Using our hub-and-spoke network, a main hub was set up at Vaemali, where the largest hospital can be found. Smaller “spokes” (the destinations for our products) were dotted around the island at a number of small villages. One of those villages was Port Quimie, located at the other end of the island to Vaemali.

During the flight tests, Maria, a nurse in Port Quimie, called the hospital in Vaemali with a desperate plea: a new mother had just given birth and was experiencing severe post-birth bleeding. She urgently needed a dose of Oxytocin to stabilise her condition.

Oxytocin is one of the best ways to treat post-partum haemorrhage, but it needs to be administered as quickly as possible to ensure it’s effective. It’s a commonly available medication in Western nations, but can be hard to come by in remote locations such as Vanuatu.

Bleeding after childbirth is life-threatening and is the leading cause of maternal death globally, with death rates significantly higher in the developing world.

Maria’s village doesn’t have large amounts of medications on hand due to inadequate storage facilities. To access an emergency dose, the usual procedure is to send the mother and her newborn baby to the hospital in Vaemali, 40kms away, for treatment.

It’s generally a two-day round trip journey, requiring multiple boat trips, which are frequently cancelled due to poor weather, and it can be cost-prohibitive. It also means travelling on poorly-maintained roads, often affected by the tropical Vanuatuan weather.

Instead of sending the new mother on a treacherous, multi-day journey, Maria contacted the hospital and scheduled an emergency delivery direct to the village.

Dispatchers at the hospital safely loaded the required dose into the payload carrier, knowing it would stay at the right temperature for the entire trip. Within 5 minutes of receiving Maria’s plea for help, the flight was authorised and launched. The delivery arrived in just 20 minutes and Maria was able to administer the dose soon after it arrived. The mother’s condition rapidly improved and she was able to focus on her newborn baby.

For the Swoop Aero team on the ground, it was incredible to see and hear about the story. A dire situation was transformed with a life-saving delivery of critical medical supplies – and our service played a role in achieving that outcome.