‘A new era’: Stellat’en First Nation and UBC launch medical supply drone delivery project

Click to play video: 'Drone to deliver medical supplies to northern B.C. First Nation'
Drone to deliver medical supplies to northern B.C. First Nation
UBC is teaming up with the Stellat'en First Nation on a pilot project that will see drones deliver medical supplies to the remote community. Dr. John Pawlovich, UBC Chair of Rural Health, explains how the technology will provide equitable access to health care services. – Oct 15, 2021

Stellat’en First Nation has partnered with the University of British Columbia in a year-long study to deliver medical supplies to remote communities using drones.

The initiative will test the mettle of unpiloted aerial vehicles in all four seasons to determine whether they can safely transport a variety of life-saving items, from COVID-19 swabs to blood products.

“Drone transport may enhance our access to COVID-19 testing and medication without travelling and endangering other members of our community,” Stellat’en Chief Robert Michell said in a UBC news release.

“The futuristic potential of this initiative is exciting. With drone technology, there is so much you can do.”

Stellat’en First Nation is about 100 kilometres west of Prince George, B.C. Credit: UBC
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Stellat’en First Nation is located about 100 kilometres west of Prince George, B.C.

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The community will collaborate with UBC on the ‘Remote Communities Drone Transportation Initiative,’ which will work towards developing a scalable model for medical supply delivery to remote and rural communities across the country.

“I think we’ve entered a new era with this technology. We need to learn about it and see what’s possible,” said Dr. John Pawlovich, clinical professor in UBC’s department of family practice and telehealth lead for the Rural Coordination Centre of BC.

Click to play video: 'Tightening COVID-19 restrictions in Northern Health'
Tightening COVID-19 restrictions in Northern Health

The pandemic has highlighted disparities in access to medical supplies and care, said Pawlovich, and in many remote communities, travelling to access them can be risky business.

COVID-19 has, however, opened people’s minds to virtual health care and technology, he added, paving the way for a pilot project like this one.

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“I think the story to be told here is that we need to start our journey understanding how drone technology will advance the medical supply chain and really deepen our relationship with technology, in a thoughtful, relationship-based way with rural, remote and Indigenous communities.”

Last month, a Toronto hospital network and Quebec company successfully transported a set of lungs for transplant using a drone. All around the world, said Pawlovich, the technology has used to transport blood products as well.

He and the team at Stellat’en First Nation said they’re eager to test the limits.

The project is funded in part by the 2020 TD Ready Challenge. Other partners include the Village of Fraser Lake, Drone Delivery Canada, the Northern Health authority, and more.

Global News has reached out to Stellat’en Chief and Council for additional comment on this story.

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