We’re very pleased to support the work of VillageReach in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). VillageReach is looking to field test the use of cargo drones for vaccine delivery with support from Gavi, the vaccine alliance, and the DRC Government. Our role in this project is to inform the technical requirements for the cargo drone tests along with the detailed scoping strategy for the drone flights. In addition, we’ve been providing VillageReach with guidance and feedback on the Request for Proposals (RFP) below, drawing on lessons learned and best practices from our own cargo drone projects in Peru, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Nepal. We’ll be working with VillageReach on the evaluation and final selection of the cargo drone partner. We’ll then support the planning and coordination of the field tests themselves, working with VillageReach, the selected drone partner and the DRC Government, including the country’s aviation authority. We’ll contribute to the evaluation of the cargo drone field tests and provide VillageReach with a detailed strategy to implement Flying Labs in the DRC.
The VillageReach RFP is available here (PDF). Please note that the response deadline is April 9th. The field tests will take place in Equateur province, which is “among the lowest-performing provinces in the DRC when it comes to immunization rates. As of May 2017, only 67% of children received the third dose of pentavalent, a vaccine which protects children against five life-threatening diseases, the second lowest rate in the country.” What’s more, “some health centers are accessible only by boats, bicycles, or even by foot, resulting in a high cost of transport, delivery delays, and inaccessibility during the rainy season. The introduction of drones as one component of a responsive and resilient transportation network has the potential to overcome these difficulties, while also reducing infrastructure costs, enabling communities living at the last mile to access life-saving vaccines.”
There is a lot of hype and false advertising in the cargo drone space, so we’re keen that our partners (like VillageReach) make the most informed decisions possible when selecting cargo drone partners for projects in the DRC and beyond. For example, it is imperative that any evaluation of prospective cargo drone partners include both a technical and team evaluation. A prospective drone partner may well have the best cargo drone on the market, but if they do not share core values, such as integrity, honesty, transparency, respect and accountability, that partner becomes a dangerous liability and a major repetitional risk. Furthermore, a strong cargo drone partner is one that carefully manages expectations and one that fully respects the needs and voices of local partners while demonstrating the highest levels of cultural sensitivity.
In terms of the technical evaluation of cargo drones, prospective cargo drone partners will need to provide uninterrupted video footage (using one or more onboard cameras) that show the drone covering a similar distance (including takeoff and landing) as described in the RFP. This is an addition to the typical technical requirements for such projects, which are also listed in the RFP. Demonstration flights will be conducted in Equateur, DRC in July or August 2019, over 1-2 weeks, carrying vaccines round-trip. In preparation for these flights, an initial site visit and several pre-demonstration test flights will be conducted in May or June 2019 to ensure reliability of the technology.