Lifesaving vaccines in the island nation of Vanuatu will soon be delivered to remote areas by drone.
A partnership between the government and the United Nations children’s fund (Unicef) will see a trial on drone medical delivery next year.
The country is made up of a string of more than 80 islands – once known as the New Hebrides – many of which do not have airstrips or good roads.
Most of the people live in rural areas and farm their own food.
Vanuatu’s director general at the ministry of health said the test was a milestone for the small island nation.
“If the trial shows that vaccine delivery using drones can work, and that it can be integrated into our existing national and provincial systems, then it will change the way we operate forever,” George Taleo said.
Unicef said: “Ensuring vaccines are consistently available in isolated and remote communities is one of the keys to sustaining high rates of immunisation.”
Drone technology has become cheaper and more powerful in recent years – factors which contributed to the trial, Unicef said.
It will begin in August 2017 with a technical assessment, followed by a targeted delivery to certain islands in March 2018.
If successful, it will then be rolled out for regular deliveries to health authorities across the 65 inhabited islands later in the year.
Vanuatu has an infant mortality rate of 23 per 1,000 births – below the global average, but higher than in developed Western nations.