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The world’s first two-way medical drone logistics network in Vanuatu

The Government of Vanuatu—supported by UNICEF, and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s innovationXchange—awarded Swoop Aero the world’s first commercial contract to provide medical drone logistics services.

The purpose of these services was to help achieve the “last mile” vaccine delivery to the 20% of children living on remote islands who did not have reliable access to vaccines. Swoop Aero became the world’s first provider of a drone-based vaccine delivery service, using our Kookaburra aircraft.

Vanuatu’s Vaccination Challenges

Vanuatu is an island country in the Pacific, an archipelago of 83 islands that covers approximately 1,600 kilometres. It is estimated that only one-third of the inhabited islands have permanent airfields and established roads, which creates considerable logistical challenges to reach, engage, and support remote island communities.

Previously, health workers were carrying vaccinations in ice boxes across treacherous mountain footpaths or transporting them using ‘banana boats’ across dangerous and unpredictable waters. Most villages have no electricity, which is needed for refrigeration to keep the vaccines at the correct temperature.

The World Health Organisation estimates that one in five of Vanuatu’s children misses out on their essential childhood vaccines due to the geographical barriers that hinder the availability, accessibility, and quality of essential health supplies.

The World’s First Drone-Delivered Vaccine

On 18 December 2018 in Cook’s Bay—on the remote side of Vanuatu’s Erromango Island—one-month-old baby Joy became the first child in the world to be vaccinated with a vaccine delivered by drone under a commercial contract thanks to Swoop Aero. Previously, Joy’s mother would have had to walk several hours to Port Narvin for Joy’s Hepatitis and Tuberculosis (TB) vaccines.

The Program Success

The vaccination program proved our ability to transform the healthcare supply chain with two-way logistics, through on-demand delivery of vaccines, pharmaceuticals, test kits, and other supplies.

During our pilot project, Swoop Aero:

Continuing Our Work in Vanuatu

By demonstrating a high level of aviation operations maturity, we were granted nine operational approvals from CAAV. This facilitated the full capability to execute autonomous aircraft flights in integrated airspace, servicing every village without restriction.

Creating Vibrant Community Ownership and Pride

The Indo-Pacific region represents an ideal use case for medical drone logistics. Working with several different stakeholders—including national Ministries of Health, NGOs, and private pharmaceutical companies—Swoop Aero is making access to the air seamless to improve the health outcomes of millions in the region.

We are also dedicated to strengthening the Vanuatu healthcare network, keeping its communities safe, healthy, high-functioning, and vibrant. By hiring an entirely local operation’s workforce and transferring our technology skills to them, everyone feels a sense of ownership in their healthcare network. And because healthcare workers have the control they need to deliver better care, they are focussing on their jobs without having to worry about supplies.

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