Technical areas: policy, technology, transport

By kpeuquet on January 1st, 2017

November-December 2016: Renne Van de Weerdt, senior technical advisor for Reproductive Health Commodities at UNFPA, Jennie Greaney, technical specialist in the Commodity Security Branch at UNFPA and Charles Otine, innovation specialist at UNFPA moderated a discussion on the use of drones, or the preferred term, unstaffed aerial vehicles (UAV), as a supply chain solution. The discussion focused on the advantages and challenges of UAVs, their popularity in public health care, and examples of current programs and results of pilot UAV programs.


Examples of current pilot UAV health care projects include:

  • Rwanda: ZipLine using UAV to deliver blood products to health faciltiies
  • Madagascar: Vayu testing UAV to deliver test samples and vaccines
  • Haiti: delivery of life saving commodities during the 2012 earthquake
  • Papua New Guinea: delivery of TB test samples


Advantages discussed included:

  • Quick delivery of health products
  • A complementary strategy to address challenges in poor road, rail, and other transport infrastructure
  • Ability to use an on-board camera to obtain live feed that can be used to determine routes to navigate or reach causalities stuck in disaster areas



High investment costs, lack of trained human resources, questionable use of drones in the past and regulation.

IAPHL members discussed a high need for a detailed cost-benefit analysis based on defined use case.

This last phase of the discussion briefly touched on the important issue of legislation for drones and the role of government. The need for regulation ranged from security concerns, consistency, building trust and managing complex navigation in and between different regions including the commodities being transported where necessary.

The converging view was about the urgent need for regulations and compliance at national and international levels. The role of government in leading the regulation process with various stakeholders while bringing in people who have technical knowledge, including private sector, was highlighted. With enabling regulation, the private sector could take the lead in refining the technology before use in large scale supply chain systems. Canada and Australia were fronted as countries with UAV traffic regulations that could be of interest to benchmark.

Other resources shared by IAPHL contributors 
1. UAVIATORS: Basics and details for those interested in UAVs
2. Paper on community engagements and ethical concerns
3. How drones can improve health care delivery in developing countries
4. Case studies

Rwanda: Flyzipline
Madagascar:  Wings for Aid
UNFPA Ghana Dr. One
5. Cost benefit analysis examples
The economic and operational value of using drones to transport vaccines
LLamasoft – UAVs in Supply Chains
Hemes study in vaccines
6. A guide to the use of airborne systems in humanitarian crises
7. Ethics and legislation
Code of ethics for UAVs
Canada – Drone legislation summary
Australia – Drone legislation summary

Drones in Public Health Supply Chains