Australian UAV delivery company Swoop Aero has added another impressive item to its “drones for good” list, thanks to its life-saving work delivering vaccinations and medical supplies to distant, often difficult-to-access destinations in central Africa’s Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Due in part to its vast size – second largest in Africa and 11th globally – the DRC has relied on use of small aerial craft in its efforts to extend access to healthcare to the remote places that often need it most. Toward the end of 2020, authorities in the northeast Équateur province tapped Swoop Aero as a partner in a two-way drone medical delivery network it launched soon thereafter. The success of that operation gave rise to a targeted campaign to vaccinate 90% of Équateur’s population aged one to 60 against yellow fever. The results of that were as remarkable as the effort that obtained them.
In addition to Swoop Aero, Équateur’s yellow fever medical drone delivery effort was backed by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, healthcare nonprofit VillageReach, and others. It spanned 21 fast-paced days in October and November, 2021, operating six drones that flew 7,363 km – or 185 flights – to five provincial vaccination centers. In addition to the 32,460 yellow fever doses transported, 19,520 diluents and 15,000 vaccination cards were also hauled. Over 27,780 people received the shot during the campaign, many of whom were in areas difficult to access – except by UAV.
According to participants in the operation, Swoop Aero drones were able to make those medical deliveries in a fraction of the time ground transport would have required. In the case of two of the centers involved, the 14 or 15 hours of travel time by land was cut to an hour. On shorter hauls, the UAV reduced the wait from four hours to 29 minutes.
Just as vitally, the speed of Swoop Aero drones allowed for on-demand, as-needed deliveries of medical supplies whose cold chain requirements could never have been respected during longer journeys.
Other consequences of UAV performance in the yellow fever project had also been observed in their provisioning of other medication and supplies earlier in Équateur. Among those were far better maintenance and replacement of stocks, very few cases of clinics ever running out, and much quicker transport and analysis of lab samples that, in turn, increased the speed of diagnoses and patient treatment.
While Swoop Aero has been active in serving healthcare programs across Africa before and since its yellow fever work in Équateur, its role last year in DRC has been hailed as a game-changer and life-saver – an achievement of which company CEO Eric Peck is deservedly proud.
“In DR Congo, Swoop Aero and VillageReach have continued to exponentially increase the scale, reach, and impact of the technology to deliver positive and long-term health outcomes for those isolated and remote communities in the Équateur province,” Peck told DroneDJ. “Swoop Aero’s involvement in the yellow fever campaign demonstrated the power and value of drone logistics to reduce critical journey times of vaccines to these communities to ensure those communities received the healthcare they needed to remain protected against this preventable illness.”