Pfizer tests drone delivery of medical supplies

PFIZER, a multinational biopharmaceutical firm, piloted the drone delivery of medicines and vaccines to the remote rural community of San Luis, Agusan del Sur, in partnership with Geneva-based WeRobotics and Philippines Flying Labs

The pilot project, conducted from March 6 to 10, saw drone pilots with at least 1,000 hours of drone training and flying experience deliver maintenance medicines, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines, medical equipment such as needles and syringes, and water samples for testing to the community of Kilometer 55, Barangay Binicalan in San Luis.  

First conceived in 2020, the project took two years to plan.   

The aim was to create a proof of concept on the accessibility of healthcare via drone delivery for areas that are geographically isolated and disadvantaged, said Ken R. Millan, digital lead for Pfizer Philippines, in an Aug. 2 e-mail.  

“Once established, the Pfizer Foundation hopes to scale up similar projects in adjacent municipalities of San Luis,” he said.  

San Luis, an isolated community due to roads that are impassable during the rainy season, has a high prevalence of diarrhea, malnutrition, hypertension, and diabetes. 

“We’re not here to replace any existing delivery service here; we are here to augment and enhance the current system,” said Dr. Heidi Sampang-Abiad, managing director at Philippines Flying Labs, in a July 22 press release.   

“Drones are reliable and are a good addition to strengthen the last mile health service delivery in the country,” she added.  

The habal-habal [a provincial motorcycle taxi] costs P5,000 to P6,000 and can take up to five hours to go back and forth from the community, she said. Drone deliveries, meanwhile, can shorten that to 10 minutes. 

“The Provincial Government of Agusan del Sur is open to innovative projects such as this one which can improve healthcare access to our isolated communities,” said Santiago B. Cane, Jr., Agusan del Sur governor, in the same press release.  

In 2018, Henrietta H. Fore, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund executive director, said that drone technologies can be “a game changer for bridging that last mile.” — Patricia B. Mirasol