Leveraging the power of drones to reach the last mile
UNICEF has been spearheading the introduction of drones to reach the poorest, hardest-to-reach communities.
Lack of infrastructure, complicated terrain and extreme weather conditions often hamper humanitarian organisations’ ability to serve children and communities in remote areas. To address these challenges, UNICEF and government partners are continuously searching for innovative solutions to overcome infrastructural and supply chain gaps.
An impactful transport solution
Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly known as drones, can extend the health supply chain reach and increase children’s access to essential health products and services in both emergency and long-term development contexts. Since 2016, drones have been used to deliver vaccines, medicines, diagnostic samples, blood products and other commodities to, and from, hard-to-access areas, including islands and mountainous regions. They have been instrumental in reaching the last mile and overcoming in-country commuting, delivery and distribution challenges.
UNICEF set up the first ever humanitarian drone corridor in Africa (2016) and, as part of its system strengthening efforts, launched the African Drone and Data Academy in Malawi to provide youth with the knowledge and skills in drone technologies and industries. It has also deployed life-saving supplies using drones in various emergency settings, including to the farthest and most inaccessible locations such as Vanuatu (2018).
Both in Malawi and Vanuatu, the efficiency gains included a reduction in turnaround times of blood diagnostic samples (leading to more patients being effectively treated), a decrease in vaccine and other health commodity stockout levels, and an increase in the availability of health commodities at the health-facility level. The results were achieved with the support of the donor community and public and private partners who facilitated the creation of feasible and sustainable business models to better serve people in need.
Tools and guidance for sustained impact
Drone integration into the supply chain is a multi-faceted process that requires program management, multi-stakeholder engagement, monitoring and evaluation, local capacity building, availability of financing mechanisms, and rigorous selection of technology and service provider. UNICEF’s drone decision tree helps partners navigate through a complex process to determine the feasibility, applicability and implementation of drone delivery in a local supply chain.
UNICEF follows an inclusive, consultative and iterative system design approach that offers a blueprint for how the supply chain should run and how drone delivery fits into the existing system and interacts with other components to improve access and coverage.
UNICEF reviews all supply chain components, including stakeholders, processes, policies, products, infrastructure, financial and information flows, to shape context-specific improvement plans and deliver results for children.
Country engagement and donor coordination
Acting as secretariat, UNICEF is leading coordination efforts as chair of the Interagency Supply Chain Group’s UAS coordinating body. The collaboration forum convenes major international development agencies and donors to align investments and normative guidance for integrating drones into supply chains.