The COVID-19 pandemic has overwhelmed well being programs throughout the globe. Within the shadows lies different ailments that may trigger extra emergencies, resembling yellow fever. To face these threats, inventive options are required to cease the following well being disaster. That is precisely what the provincial well being officers of Equateur province within the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in collaboration with the Ministry of Well being and the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), are doing by leveraging an ongoing drone supply community established in 2020. It would assist a mass yellow fever immunization marketing campaign focusing on over 90% of the inhabitants, one village at a time.
DRONELIFE is honored to function this visitor publish by Olivier Defawe, Director Well being Methods at VillageReach, and founding father of the UAV for payload supply working group (UPDWG) targeted on the development and software of drones for public well being and provide chain enchancment. DRONELIFE neither accepts nor makes cost for visitor posts.
Equateur province, within the northeastern a part of DRC is dwelling to a two-way supply community utilizing Swoop Aero drone know-how to serve distant and hard-to-reach well being services and communities. The Provincial Ministry of Well being, with the technical help of VillageReach and monetary assist from donors coming collectively, together with GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Invoice & Melinda Gates Basis, established operations to deal with the medical supply wants given the difficult terrain within the area.
Utilizing a drone supply community, the provincial well being authorities have been distributing each routine and on-demand vaccines and different immunization merchandise month-to-month for kids and ladies in 35 hard-to-reach well being areas, through 20 drone touchdown websites. As a result of the drones can land nearly anyplace, the drones return with a broad vary of merchandise, together with yellow fever and COVID-19 laboratory samples.
Different deliveries have included medical reviews, and at occasions on-demand deliveries of non-public protecting tools (PPE) in assist of the COVID-19 response, in addition to vaccines, medicines and contraceptives. Now the outcomes are in and the supply community is delivering profitable outcomes. Within the final 9 months, greater than 15,000 youngsters and 5,500 pregnant ladies who stay in probably the most hard-to-reach areas have obtained immunization companies due to the introduction of drones.
Given this success, it’s no marvel that the provincial authorities is as soon as extra turning to the drone know-how to assist meet its goal of reaching greater than three million folks aged between 9 months and 60 years of age throughout the 10-day yellow fever preventive marketing campaign in Equateur.
Vital reviews assist maintain observe of the vaccine marketing campaign
Dr. Nicole Lubanda, the lead consultant for yellow fever and measles from the EPI, traveled to the Bikoro well being district to function the nationwide supervisor for the yellow fever mass vaccination marketing campaign.
She discovered of the assist that the drones had offered to the district with routine vaccine deliveries. When she reached the location, one of many drones was arriving on the district-landing website from a visit to Maanga, which is one in every of three well being catchment areas benefiting from drone deliveries of yellow fever vaccines. It’s a village solely accessible by a lake and located 100 km from the Bikoro well being district workplace.
She was amazed to open the storage compartment of the drone that simply arrived and mentioned “[…] the drone helps us to ship each vaccines and different merchandise in addition to each day reviews in order that we will maintain observe of the [progress of the campaign]. [Within] about 10 to twenty minutes, we despatched 5 to 10 frozen accumulators or vaccines and this enables us to provide hard-to-reach areas in file time.”
Journeys lowered from two days to 25 minutes
Ipombo is a village within the Lolanga Bobanga well being district positioned 37 kilometers from Mbandaka, the capital of Equateur. Nonetheless, what looks as if a brief distance requires a two and half hour journey by canoe down the Congo River adopted by a further half an hour journey by highway. In earlier campaigns, David Moponda, the top nurse of the Ipombo well being facility, would have needed to load his provides of syringes, vaccines and diluents, in addition to vaccination playing cards onto a canoe to make the journey. However for this marketing campaign he didn’t fear as drones had transported them.
“This 12 months has been totally different with the assist from Drones for Well being. Greater than 9,900 doses of yellow fever vaccines and diluents can be wanted in Ipombo to vaccinate the focused inhabitants between the ages of 9 months and 60 years of age,” mentioned David Moponda. “Inside a four-day interval, and solely 25 minutes for every journey, the drones had already delivered 4,200 doses of the vaccine.”
Operations needed to be suspended for the reason that fridge of the well being facility was already at full capability. Nonetheless, as soon as area is freed up, flights will take off once more.
Yellow fever vaccine marketing campaign transformation
From a technical perspective, the drones remodeled the vaccine marketing campaign in three key methods:
1) The drones enabled to leapfrog the dearth of purposeful chilly chain the place the marketing campaign was being carried out. Drones allowed for just-in-time supply of yellow fever vaccines to the marketing campaign staff because the marketing campaign progressed within the area, eliminating the necessity for cold-chain tools.
2) The drones allowed for rapid-response to surprising wants encountered by the marketing campaign staff. This allowed on-demand resupply of merchandise, like vaccination playing cards.
3) Epidemiologic surveillance actions had been elevated and drones allowed for fast transport of samples from well being services to provincial-level laboratories for processing.
General, the drones elevated the attain, effectiveness and responsiveness of the yellow fever vaccine marketing campaign.
Because the marketing campaign nears its finish, it’s clear that inventive options come from utilizing what’s already out there, however in new methods – and leveraging a drone community used for routine supply for a mass vaccine marketing campaign has simply expanded the worth of drone know-how for the well being system in Equateur, DRC.
Learn extra from Olivier Defawe in an earlier DRONELIFE Op-Ed: COVID-19 is Right here: Now, The place are the Drones?
Olivier Defawe, Director Well being Methods at VillageReach, leads the design and implementation of a broad portfolio of well being improvements to enhance well being care supply on the final mile. Defawe has been the Drones for Well being program lead since its inception in 2015. He oversees the implementation drone supply packages in Democratic of Congo (DRC), Malawi, Mozambique, Central African Republic and the Dominican Republic. He’s additionally the founding father of the UAV for payload supply working group (UPDWG) targeted on the development and software of drones for public well being and provide chain enchancment by the coordination of proof era and expertise amongst companions and stakeholders. Defawe holds a PhD in Biomedical sciences.