DroneDeploying unmanned drones in low and middle-income countries could save money and increase vaccination rates, according to new research conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center.

Many low- and middle-income countries struggle to deliver lifesaving vaccines to sick people who are fighting preventable diseases.

Bruce Y. Lee, director of operations at the International Vaccine Access Center at the Bloomberg School says “[We] make all these vaccines but they’re of no value if we don’t get them to the people who need them. So there is an urgent need to find new, cost-effective ways to do this.”

Currently, vaccines such as hepatitis B, tetanus, measles and rotavirus are typically transported by road through two to four storing sites before they reach clinics where the doses are finally administered to patients. The majority of vaccines require refrigeration until they are used or else they will spoil.

In addition, non-vaccine costs of routine immunization are expected to rise between 2010 and 2020, mostly derived from supply chain logistics.

In the meantime, unmanned drones have proliferated. They can traverse all land and topography, decrease labor costs and substitute the need for vehicle transportation. They have been heavily used for surveillance and in humanitarian aid delivery.

A study conducted at Johns Hopkins University found that utilizing drones to transport vaccines to their final destination could slightly increase the rate of immunization, immunizing 96 percent of the target population as compared to 94 percent using land-based transport. This simultaneously produced significant savings, eight cents for every dose administered (roughly 20 percent savings).

“Assuming the drones are reliable, are capable of making the necessary trips and have properly trained operators, they could be a less expensive means of transporting vaccines, especially in remote areas,” says Lee. He adds, “They could particularly be valuable for urgent orders.”

An initiative led by the United Parcel Service Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has raised $800,000 grant to support the launch of a zip line drone project in Rwanda that will commence later this year. The government of Rwanda will use zip line drones to make 150 life-saving blood deliveries per day to 21 transfusing facilities in western part of the country.

According to Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, “It is a totally different way to deliver vaccines to remote communities and we are extremely interested to learn if UAVs can provide a safe, effective way to make vaccines available for some of the hardest-to-reach children.”

The Rwanda drone network has been initially focused on delivering blood supplies, but plans to expand to include vaccines and treatments for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

In rural Virginia, Bhutan and Papua New Guinea, drones are currently being tested for medical supply deliveries. UNICEF is also testing their viability of use in Malawi and in Tanzania.

Sarah Poff

Photo: Pixabay


Childbirth can often be a dangerous time for the mother and child in developing countries. Pregnancy and childbirth together are two of the leading causes of death in the developing world, since one in seven women experience a complication. The risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth rises with each additional child. Since women typically give birth six to eight times, there is a great need for improved monitoring and response to health concerns during childbirth.

Now, a nonprofit health organization associated with John Hopkins University, Jhpiego, has developed an innovative new way to decrease the dangers of childbirth. They created the E-Partogram, the technological version of the paper Partogram, developed by the World Health Organization.

The new E-Partogram is a handheld portable device that links small town doctors and midwifes to other medical experts in hospitals. The devise also tracks the progress and health of women who are in labor so that complications can be detected and treated as soon as possible. At the low cost of $50 per tablet and lifetime of at least three years, the E-Partogram is likely to become an effective way of preventing childbirth deaths and illnesses.

Although the paper Partogram was already available to doctors and midwifes in developing countries, it was not widely used due to its time consuming nature and difficulty to manage during pressing and busy times. Jhpiego recognized the need to develop new technology to address this major health concern and went to work created the E-Partogram.

With the development of new health technologies like the E-Partogram, developing countries finally have the resources to improve healthcare systems and reach people in rural areas. John Hopkins University and its partner, Jhpiego, are working to ensure that these medical technologies are globally accessible and affordable for even the poorest countries. Although childbirth is still dangerous, E-Partogram will greatly reduce deaths of women and children around the world.

– Mary Penn

Sources: The Gazette, CNN, Saving Lives at Birth