Drones will take to the sky delivering medical supplies to the Stellat’en First Nation after a team from UBC’s Faculty of Medicine has partnered on a pilot project with the remote Indigenous community more than 100 kilometres west of Prince George.
Chief Robert Michell believes drone technology could reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 while enhancing access to essential supplies. Lockdowns in First Nation communities have exacerbated inequitable access to health care supplies and services such as testing.
Michell said people belonging to one household all had to self-isolate, resulting in an outside member having to retrieve medications for them.
The province’s health officer has cautioned that the more people you see and the more places you go, the higher the risk to you and those around you.
An unmanned drone carrying supplies will make the six-kilometre trip between Fraser Lake and the Stellat’en First Nation twice daily, five days a week over the next year.
“As we got into this pandemic, it became obvious that creating access for remote communities has become more important, and trying to get supplies in and out of those communities beyond the historical ways of driving in, driving out, or flying in or flying out,” said Dr. John Pawlovich, one of the project’s leaders.
The UBC Faculty of Medicine received a $750,000 grant from the TD Ready Challenge.
Michell believes drone technology could provide limitless opportunities for his on-reserve community of approximately 250 members and get Stellat’en young adults interested in completing the drone pilot program.
He recalled a drowning within the nearby river system, inaccessible by boat.
“If we had drone technology, we could have listed it off fairly quickly and scan the river system to see where he went in and where he was,” Michell said.