Thoughts from the Last Mile Welcome to the VillageReach Blog
12.17 2019

PRESS RELEASE

17 December 2019

Parliamentarians in Equateur, Democratic Republic of Congo
Commit to Sustainable Health Financing

MBANDAKA, DECEMBER 15, 2019 – In Equateur province, Democratic Republic of Congo, Parliamentarians have taken bold steps to guarantee the health of the people who elected them. On 5 December 2019, 14 members of Parliament unanimously voted the first ever law on sustainable health financing in Equateur province. This is also the first law passed in the current legislature that started in March 2019. The new law would emphasize domestic resource mobilization to address various health challenges that the province is facing including ensuring vaccines and products are available to address childhood disease and recurrent cholera, measles, Ebola and pneumonia outbreaks.

Honorable Buka Claude

For Honorable Buka Claude , the President of Equateur Provincial Parliament, “The new law is expected to help meet commitments made during the National Forum on Immunization and Polio eradication on 23 July 2019 under the leadership of Felix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, the President of Democratic Republic of Congo. … My colleague Parliamentarians and I are very concerned about child mortality and recurrent outbreaks. This is what motivated us to pass the Edict to enable the Provincial Government to mobilize and allocate more resources in the health sector to ensure that the people who elected us are healthy and can actively contribute in the economy of the province.”

Honorable Mobeki Jean Fulgence

Equateur province is a geographically-challenging province in northwestern DRC. The province is crossed by a number of forests and rivers, including the majestic Congo River, making it difficult to access basic health services. VillageReach has worked closely with political leaders in Equateur province to ensure that health products are available to people when and where they are needed through supply chain optimization and the use of drones.

VillageReach also raised awareness of the need to mobilize domestic resources with members of Equateur’s Provincial Parliament. Honorable Mobeki Jean Fulgence defended the Edict saying, “This Edict is the result of the consultation and contribution with my colleague Parliamentarians to provide for the present and future generation with a tool that enables them to mobilize resources needed to address multiple health issues facing our province.”

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09.10 2019

VillageReach has partnered with stakeholders at local, regional and global levels since 2015 to explore the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for health. UAS, also referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, are being evaluated for integration into health systems alongside traditional land- and water-based modes of transportation. Drones have the potential to improve the availability of health products, increase equity of access and save time and money compared to ground transportation particularly in geographically challenging areas.

Read the overview here (PDF).

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08.27 2019

Originally posted on Medium.com

I started working in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) four years ago when VillageReach was approached with an opportunity–to improve the availability of vaccines and essential medicines in rural Equateur province. 

I never back down from a challenge, and this one couldn’t be more difficult given the forest density, the river running through the province, and lack of roads. What roads there were would get washed away or become mud pistes for Land Cruisers during the rainy season. 

In countries like DRC, supply chains are designed with the environment in mind and drones looked promising for vaccine distribution given these conditions. After months of building the case for testing drones, the plan to perform a series of demonstration flights was approved.

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08.07 2019

PRESS RELEASE

8 August 2019

CONTACTS:
Kat Tillman (USA),  +1 206-512-1530, kat.tillman@villagereach.org
Freddy Nkosi (DRC), +243-82-47-90-846, freddy.nkosi@villagereach.org

Drone Fleet Transports Vaccines to Immunize Children in Remote Health Facilities
in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Ministry of Health, VillageReach, Swoop Aero and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance
introduce innovative mode of delivery to ensure communities are reached with 
life-saving vaccines

SEATTLE / MBANDAKA, AUGUST 8, 2019 — A collaboration including the Ministry of Health, VillageReach and Swoop Aero, and with funding by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has vaccinated the first children receiving vaccines by drone in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These successful flights, which took place in the northwestern province of Équateur, are part of a broader strategy to reach remote populations with vaccines and other medicines called Nouvelle Génération des Chaînes d’Approvisionnement, or NGCA. The drone demonstrations highlight continued innovation to improve health, in the midst of the recent public health emergency declaration by the World Health Organization due to an Ebola outbreak.

A fleet of drones transported vaccines, syringes and medicines to a hard-to-reach Congolese village called Widjifake with 6,500 residents, where children were vaccinated. Each drone flight to Widjifake safely delivered vaccines–maintained at the right temperature for efficacy–in around 20 minutes, expediting what is typically a six-hour journey by road. Today the drones completed eight flights of 80 kilometers each in one day. This is in addition to 42 flights flown over the past week.

Swoop Aero’s drones have vertical take-off and landing capability, which allows them to land directly at the health center in Widjifake and also return to the Provincial Health Division of Equateur with lab samples, data collection forms, and requests for medicines needed. The take-off site in Mbandaka is the first drone port in DRC approved by the Civil Aviation Authority. .

“One of the key focus areas of the National Health Development Plan is to reduce maternal and infant mortality. The Ministry of Health welcomes this innovation that facilitates the transport of vaccines and other essential health products through drones to overcome accessibility challenges in Equateur’s hard-to-reach communities. This will bring essential health care closer to the population in order to improve universal health coverage,” said Yuma Ramazani, Secretary General for Health, DRC.

Drones represent an additional approach for reaching the last mile — bridging the gap between hard-to-reach populations and the vital health products they need. These flights will give the Government of DRC a clearer picture of how drones could be integrated into the existing health system. The costs and benefits compared to traditional delivery systems will be detailed as well as the changes needed to operationalize this method of transport.

“Rivers, forests and difficult roads can be the first barriers to accessing basic health services. If people overcome these geographical barriers, they may find another: a health center without vaccines or essential medicines. In partnership with the Ministry of Health, VillageReach is attempting to overcome these barriers head-on, prioritizing the accessibility and quality of basic health services for people living in remote villages across the country. We believe drones have significant potential to create the responsive, people-centered supply chains that will ensure access to health care for under-reached populations,” said Emily Bancroft, CEO of VillageReach.

“The coverage rate for routine immunization in DRC is extremely low and the Ministry of Health has declared a health emergency to work to improve it. Coincidently, DRC is experiencing an unprecedented series of deadly disease outbreaks, which are all symptoms of poor coverage, weak health systems, lack of infrastructure and broader health issues in the country,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “Drones have the potential to help reach the unreached and ensure that more children in the DRC are protected against vaccine-preventable diseases. Integrated within a strong and sustainable routine immunization program, these innovations can help tackle the current outbreaks that the country is experiencing,” he added.

As part of this effort, VillageReach tapped the expertise of Swoop Aero to demonstrate how drones could surpass some of the geographic challenges in the province, including crossing the Congo River and its tributaries.

“We are proud to be part of this game-changing project in DRC following our success working with the Ministry of Health and Unicef in Vanuatu. Our team brings together the knowledge and expertise needed to be able to operate a safe, reliable, and cost-effective air transport solution using drones. We’re excited to be able to demonstrate our expertise to the DRC Ministry of Health, and share our vision for equitable access to healthcare,” said Eric Peck, CEO of Swoop Aero.

Based on the initial demonstration flights, VillageReach and its partners see the potential to improve access to vaccines and other health products, increasing equity to people least served by the existing system. The next step is to secure continued funding to assess the costs and benefits of using this technology and developing the operational model needed to provide and sustain routine transport of vaccines, medicines and other medical commodities to remote areas of Equateur.

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VillageReach is a nonprofit organization that works with governments to solve health care delivery challenges in low-resource communities. Our programs focus on increasing access to quality health care at the last mile, or the point at which services are delivered. We develop and implement new ideas and approaches to ensure vaccines and medicines are available and increase the capacity of health workers and ensure they have access to data to improve health. Our work improves the lives of more than 30 million people in sub-Saharan Africa.

Swoop Aero is venture capital backed company that is bringing autonomous air transport to everyday life by revolutionising access to healthcare for everyone, everywhere. Founded by former Air Force pilot Eric Peck and mechatronics engineer Josh Tepper in 2017; Swoop Aero is one of a handful of teams globally that hold the knowledge of how to build and operate an air transport network using drones. Their operations team includes former air force pilots, current commercial pilots and leading engineers, meaning they are ideally positioned to support in-need communities in locations that have previously been the hardest places to reach in the world, such as the DRC. 

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance is a public-private partnership committed to saving children’s lives and protecting people’s health by increasing equitable use of vaccines in lower-income countries. The Vaccine Alliance brings together developing country and donor governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry, technical agencies, civil society, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other private sector partners. Gavi uses innovative finance mechanisms to secure sustainable funding and adequate supply of quality vaccines. Since 2000, Gavi has contributed to the immunisation of 700 million children and the prevention of 10 million future deaths. Learn more at www.gavi.org and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter

 

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07.23 2019

On July 17, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) a public health emergency of international concern.

The WHO declaration is a serious matter, and one that VillageReach does not take lightly.  We support WHO’s decision to raise the global profile of this outbreak, as many lives have been lost and new resources and solutions are needed.  WHO reported on July 18th that there have been 2522 confirmed and probable cases of Ebola in this region and 1698 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak. 135 of the infections have been in health workers. Since the Ebola outbreak is taking place in a conflict zone, containment and response has been difficult.

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04.29 2019

Transporting vaccines, essential and generic medicines and family planning products in separate shipments when they are all going to the same health facility is an inefficient use of precious resources. An integrated system for delivering products to the last mile has been developed and implemented by the Next Generation of Supply Chain initiative (NGCA) in DRC’s Equateur province. This report details how the integrated distribution contributed to improved product availability, overall cost savings and more time for health workers to spend delivering immunizations and other health services.    

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04.26 2019

Jean Louis Esanzo in his clinic

Jean Louis Esanzo, is the Superintendent Nurse at the Konongo Health Center, in the Mankanza health district of Equateur province, DRC. Konongo Health Center supplies vaccines and essential medicines for many surrounding villages. However, the only way to get vaccines to Konongo from the provincial warehouse is by boat on the Congo River. This means long journeys and high transportation costs the health center could not afford, which led to frequent vaccine stock outs in the past.

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04.04 2019

Patuma and her daughter who benefit from Chipatala cha pa Foni – Health Center by Phone.

I am pleased to share VillageReach’s 2018 Annual Impact Report  with you. This year’s report demonstrates the gains we made last year in collaboration with Ministries of Health across sub-Saharan Africa and our private and non-profit partners. It takes a deep level of commitment to build sustainable solutions that increase access to health care for all, and we appreciate our generous donors and partners who help make this possible.

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