Polio Vaccine To All: Malawi Embraces Drone Tech Tech Amid Harsh Environments
The five day Chiperoni and strong Mwera winds which hit Malawi on Monday had a bearing on health service delivery in some parts of the southern region as drone operators were reluctant to timely release their birds due to harsh weather conditions.
A week ago, the department of meteorological services warned of the harsh weather which they predicted will be calm by Saturday, July 15th.
This is the same week in which government , through the Ministry of Health and other development partners, scheduled to distribute polio vaccines to children aged 0-15, after five cases of the deadly disease were reported in a space of 17 months, with the first case reported in February 2022.
In Malawi, the last polio case was reported in 1992, making the February 2022 case the first case in thirty years. Fast forward to 2005, Malawi obtained a Polio free status, while the WHO African region received its Polio free status certificate in 2020.
The campaign which is targeting 8.8 children across the country kick started at a time Malawi is recovering from the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which claimed lives, destroyed properties worth billions.
The natural disaster rendered most hard to reach areas, especially those in the southern region, almost unreachable, hence employing alternative modes to ensure that the vaccines reach every child in Malawi; Using drones!
Zomba, Chikwawa and Mangochi are some of the districts where the bird technology was being used for the exercise which ended on Saturday, so as to beat geographical challenges.
Regardless of the constraints, Anne Nderitu, Operations Manager for Swoop Aero, a drone operating company told us that despite the weather and network limits, 8500 doses of the vaccine were dispatched to hard to reach areas in the three districts, as of Thursday.
"The weather has not been friendly but we have managed to deliver some dosages in hard to reach areas. We are optimistic that we will reach out to more though some of these places also have poor mobile network access," she said.
Magomero Health Centre in Zomba for instance, is one of the beneficiaries of the drone driven vaccine delivery system. Approximately 16 thousand from this catchment area children have received two drops of the dose.
Approximately eight kilometres away from Thondwe Trading Centre, access roads to the health facility were not spared from the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Freddy.
Equally, as of Thursday, the facility vaccinated at least seven thousand children, an initiative which Benson Matiki, Health Surveillance Assistant in the area owes the ease and availability of the critical doses to the drones, a system sponsored by UNICEF.
"As you have noticed, the road is very bad and it is hard for us to access essential commodities. We have managed to reach out to more children because of this drone technology," he said.
Meanwhile, UNICEF Polio Cold Chain and Vaccine Management Consultant Simon Kondowe is optimistic that the drone driven vaccine delivery system will serve its intended purpose.
But the hiccups according to Ministry of Health Spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe should not be a cause of worry.
Chikumbe says the citizenry should not panic as health authorities will conduct mop up campaigns, targeting hard to reach areas.
Despite the remarkable milestones in the polio eradication initiative in the country, and Africa at large, Malawi implemented the immunization exercise at a time neighboring Mozambique reported nine cases of the same.
According to the International Health Regulations, Malawi was as of May 2023 classified as a state infected with WPV1 and circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1, with potential risk of international spread.