Addressing transport, connectivity and better emergency preparedness

Children in Mitengo, Lilongwe looking onto the drones for cholera activities being undertaken by UNICEF.
Govati Nyirenda

The delivery of life-saving materials in both humanitarian and development contexts can face a range of challenges.

For health workers in remote areas and regions with complex geography, transportation challenges can disrupt the provision of quality care to children and pose constraints to early diagnosis. Transport efficiencies are also essential to supply chain management, particularly for moving temperature sensitive cargo, restocking essential medicines and supplies, and delivering life-saving emergency items in humanitarian contexts.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or ‘drone’-based technologies and services are demonstrating the ability to deliver life-saving materials, and in so doing, generate substantial social benefits. UNICEF and partners are exploring and assessing the industry capabilities, dynamics and economic viability of using drones to reach previously unreachable populations. UNICEF’s drones programme aims to better understand these opportunities, address key considerations in the use of drones, and craft a practical way forward for UNICEF to globally leverage this technology to protect and advance the rights of children.

The programme is exploring a range of applications, including:

  • Vaccine delivery/transport;
  • Improved connectivity in hard-to-reach communities; and
  • Aerial imaging for better preparedness and response in emergencies.

What can drone technology mean for UNICEF's impact?

  • TRANSPORT EFFICIENCY | Drones can be a part of the solution to reduce transportation time and ensure that children who require treatment can receive it early.
  • SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT | On-board digital monitoring systems can help track inventory, control temperature and other essential parameters of temperature sensitive cargo and offer reliable and quick patient treatment for disease diagnosis or efficient epidemic management.  
  • EMERGENCIES | Drone deliveries of emergency medical supplies and kits can help us respond more quickly in multiple humanitarian contexts that require the provision of life-saving immunization materials, biological samples, transfusion plasma or organs.
  • MEDICAL DIAGNOSTIC KITS | Drones can help overcome transport challenges and delays in the delivery of small, low weight supplies, through the re-supply of essential medicines and delivery of medical diagnostic kits and return samples.

In action

Malawi Drone Testing Corridor

In June 2017, the Government of Malawi and UNICEF launched an air corridor to test the potential humanitarian use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones. 

The test corridor is the world largest test area with over 5000 square km – and allowing operations up to 400 m above ground level – which is specifically dedicated to the humanitarian and development uses for drones and the only dedicated unmanned flight testing space in the continent of Africa.

The Malawi drone test corridor is open to industry, universities, and individuals who can apply and test a potential use case in one of the three main areas: imagery, connectivity, and transport. It is an opportunity for companies to provide global leadership in the emerging technology field of drones for humanitarian and development work, while simultaneously developing local experience in Malawi.

This test corridor in Malawi is the first of its kind in Africa and will generate increased interest in Malawian technological infrastructure. Likewise, it will increase capacity amongst Malawian technologists and entrepreneurial students in this emerging area to remain competitive. 

Express your interest to the Malawi Drone Corridor here


Drone-based Vaccine Deliveries in Vanuatu  

The Republic of Vanuatu is a Y-shaped archipelago consisting of 83 relatively small islands of volcanic origin that run 1600 kilometers north to south. Many islands and villages are accessible only by boat, and the roads on the major islands only connect the most important towns and villages. Roads are in bad condition, and they are flooded or washed away quite often due to the predominant climate conditions.

Due to these limitations, vaccine and health supply logistics are expensive, risky, and unreliable. Mobile teams are frequently required to walk to villages and communities in remote areas carrying temperature-sensitive vaccines and equipment. MoH, in assessment with UNICEF, is exploring the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones, as a quick, reliable, and effective mode of transportation to deliver vaccines from main health facilities to dispensaries, aid post, and mobile vaccination teams. It also includes maintaining the cargo temperature between 2 and 8 Celsius degrees -to ensure the cold chain is not interrupted and the vaccines are delivered in optimal condition. 

The primary objective of the project is to test the technical feasibility and economical sustainability of including this new mode of transportation into the existing Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) as a last-mile delivery resource. To achieve this objective, Ministry of Health is seeking to contract up to three service contractors through a government procurement process. Three (3) Request for Tender (RFT) processes for physical services, for Pentecost, Epi & Shepherds, and Erromago islands respectively, have been officially issued.

On 25 October 2018: In a global first, the Vanuatu Government has awarded two international drone companies, Swoop Aero and Wingcopter, with commercial contracts to trial the use of drones to bring lifesaving vaccines to children living in remote rural islands. 


Two drone testing corridors in Kazakhstan

The Government of Kazakhstan and UNICEF launched a joint initiative for testing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS/also known as drones) for emergency preparedness and response at two designated Drone Testing Corridors.

The corridors in Kazakhstan are part of UNICEF’s ongoing commitment to bringing drones into humanitarian use. All projects adhere to a strict set of innovation principles, with a focus on open source and user-centered design. Kazakhstan has a growing drone industry, including design, production of fuselage/body, and the initial stages of software development. At the same time, the country needs to build the capacity of drone specialists and promote the use of drones by potential UAS services customers.

New corridors will be located in two different regions of the country (North and South) to allow for testing drone technologies in varied terrain and climate. These are intended to become experimental areas for testing drone technologies, and they provide space for the corporate sector, academia, and other potential partners to explore how UAS can be used to help deliver services that will benefit communities and to develop/adapt appropriate technologies.

Express your interest to participate on Kazakhstan's drone corridors here


UNICEF Funding Opportunity for Drone Solutions

The UNICEF Innovation Fund is looking to make up to $100K equity-free investments to provide early stage (seed) finance to for-profit technology start-ups that have the potential to benefit humanity through the use of drones.

If you’ve got a start-up registered in one of UNICEF’s programme countries and have a working, open-source drone prototype or service (or you are willing to make it open-source) showing promising results, the UNICEF Innovation Fund is looking for you.

Beyond Seed Investment, start-ups can use our drone corridor. Get exclusive access to UNICEF’s 6,500 m2 drone corridor with 500 meters above ground level located around Kasungu, Malawi. 


Drones Certifications via Blockchain 

UNICEF Ventures is leveraging a public blockchain, Ethereum, to make claims in a transparent and immutable way. In the first phase of the prototype, UNICEF Ventures is issuing certificates confirming the participation of organizations who test in our drone corridors.

Contact us

Products and Partnerships Contact: drones [at] unicef [dot] org