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VillageReach is Improving Healthcare
The history behind VillageReach is very similar to The Borgen Project’s history. Blaise Judja-Sato, a native Cameroonian, founded VillageReach in 2000 after returning to Africa to aid in the relief efforts of a devastating flood in Mozambique. While he was in Mozambique, Judja-Sato saw a problem with the healthcare system. Since many citizens live in rural areas, the government could not provide them with the medical supplies they needed, which led to their frustration. Thus, she coined the phrase “starting at the last mile” and established VillageReach. Here is some information about how VillageReach is improving healthcare in low and middle-income countries.

Healthcare That Reaches Everyone

VillageReach’s mission is simple. It aims to reach “the last mile” in LMICs (low and middle-income countries) where people do not always have access to healthcare or any at all. Even with VillageReach, 1 billion people do not have access to healthcare. However, VR is working to improve the already existing health systems in different areas. It focuses on four pillars including healthcare accessibility, information availability, human resource constraints and lack of infrastructure. VillageReach is improving healthcare in these countries so that the people in and out of rural areas thrive.

Big Partners

Additionally, VR has over 30 partners that keep its organization running strong. From the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to UNICEF, VR has quite an array of influential partners. The President of the organization is Emily Bancroft. She stated that VR “could not have made an impact the last 20 years without the collaborative power of partnership.” The team is spread out over 13 countries. It has headquarters in Seattle, Washington and offices in Mozambique, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Drones

Furthermore, in 2019, VR collaborated with the Ministry of Health, Swoop Aero and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to launch the Drone Project in the Équateur Province of the DRC. The partners decided to pick this place in the DRC because of its many geographical challenges. More than half of the health systems in place are only accessible by river. The goal of the Drone Project is to increase vaccine availability in areas that are hard to reach. The drones, provided by Swoop Aero, can take off with the push of a button and land without guidance. It can also carry around six pounds. After the Drone Project’s first flights were successful, the partners are already thinking bigger, brainstorming on how to send other medical supplies and equipment.

COVID-19 Response

Also, VR is a supporter of the COVID-19 Action Fund for Africa. The initiative works to supply PPEs (personal protective equipment) to community health workers in Africa. PPEs are practically inaccessible in most African countries and the consequences are horrible. Health workers stay home or work without PPEs. With health workers not working, there is no way that Africa will be able to stop the spread of COVID-19. VR plays a crucial part in the initiative’s seven-approach plan, which focuses on the last mile and working with similar in-country organizations to accomplish its goals.

Recognition

As a 20-year-old organization, VR received recognition numerous times for its fantastic work in Sub-Saharan Africa. Recently, the Washington Global Health Alliance honored VR with the Pioneers Outstanding Organization Award. The WGHA awards winners that work hard to improve health equity all over the world. The judges select winners, and in 2020, WGHA board member Erin McCarthy led it. VR received an award for its innovative approach, collaborations with local governments in the places it works and its international emphasis on equity.

Overall, from COVID-19 response to innovating delivering vaccines by drones, VillageReach has covered it all in its 20 years of service to the world. VR is improving healthcare, one small rural village at a time.

– Bailey Sparks
Photo: Flickr

Vaccines for Vanuatu
In December of 2018, Vanuatu made headlines as the first nation to receive a vaccination delivered by a drone. Vanuatu is a remote island off the coast of Australia, directly west of Fiji, made up of more than 70 smaller islands. After winning their independence from Britain and France in 1980, many of the islanders maintain their traditional Melanesian culture and lifestyle with an economy revolving around fishing, agriculture and tourism.

Vaccines to Vanuatu

Most villages scattered across Vanuatu are only accessible by boat or mountain footpath, which makes it difficult to deliver vaccines in a timely and safe manner. Vaccines must be kept at precise temperatures, which the warm, wet climate of Vanuatu makes especially difficult. However, technology is making healthcare possible, even on the small island of Vanuatu.

An Australian-based drone company, Swoop Aero, is working to deliver vaccines to Vanuatu. This is the first time the Vanuatu government, or any government for that matter, has contracted a drone company. Funded by UNICEF and the Australian government, Swoop Aero’s mission is to provide networks of autonomous drones to transport medical supplies, on-demand, to the people who need them most. Currently, 85 percent of the world has access to vaccines; if used correctly, drones will increase this figure to 95 percent vaccine coverage worldwide.

Success at Cook’s Bay

Also in December, Swoop Aero held their first trial run to a small village in Vanuatu called Cook’s Bay.  Their drone traveled 25 miles to deliver hepatitis and tuberculosis (TB) vaccines to a one-month-old baby named Joy Nowai. She became the first person ever to receive vaccines from a drone. Almost 20 percent of children in Vanuatu under 5-years-old lack access to life-saving vaccines, but after a successful trial flight by Swoop Aero, drones will continue to bring vaccines to Vanuatu.

Here are some other ways drones are helping to improve healthcare:

  • A U.S. drone company called Zipline currently delivers blood and other medical supplies to doctors in Ghana and Rwanda. Zipline is planning to start delivering vaccines, specifically rabies vaccines, to Ghana and Rwanda in 2019.
  • UNICEF is running a humanitarian drone test corridor in Malawi. After being tested, these drones will be able to transport blood samples between hospitals to speed up HIV diagnoses, especially in infants, and deliver other humanitarian and medical supplies to doctors.
  • Drones are speeding up tuberculosis (TB) testing in Papua New Guinea. Fast diagnoses are essential to curing TB, and in Papua New Guinea, a country with dense jungles and rough roads; this is especially difficult to manage. Drones quickly transport diagnostic samples from remote health centers to hospitals and laboratories, allowing for a quick diagnosis and treatment for the patient.

Increasing Access to Healthcare, One Drone at a Time

In this new age of technology, drones are providing unprecedented levels of access to medical supplies, including vaccines, lab testing and blood samples. After a successful trial run delivering vaccines to Vanuatu, Swoop Aero, UNICEF and other drone companies like Zipline are looking forward to a time when 100 percent of people will have access to medical supplies and healthcare.

– Natalie Dell
Photo: Pixabay