UBC receives $750K TD Ready Challenge grant to deliver health care supplies by drone to remote B.C.

The new initiative is in collaboration with First Nations partners.

The UBC faculty of medicine has received a $750,000 grant from the 2020 TD Ready Challenge to launch a new initiative in collaboration with First Nations partners that will deploy drone technology to fly necessary health care supplies into rural and remote communities of British Columbia during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many First Nations communities in B.C. are on lockdown to reduce transmission of COVID-19, which has exacerbated inequitable access to health care supplies and services, ranging from personal protective equipment and medications to laboratory services such as COVID-19 testing and diagnostics for other medical conditions.

“Based on the isolated location of our community and the needs of our residents, drone transport may enhance our access to COVID-19 testing and medication without traveling and endangering other members of our community,” says Chief Robert Michell of the Stellat’en First Nation, located about 100 kilometres west of Prince George. “The futuristic potential of this initiative is exciting. With drone technology, there is so much you can do.”

The faculty of medicine will work closely with the Stellat’en First Nation to pilot the Remote Communities Drone Transportation Initiative.

“The rapid switch to virtual care when the pandemic was declared has accelerated a host of telemedicine initiatives that are helping rural and remote First Nations communities access health care providers,” says Dr. John Pawlovich, clinical professor in UBC’s department of family practice and telehealth lead for the Rural Coordination Centre of BC. “But our community partners identified the gap in access to physical supplies for health care. This initiative is the critical first step in working together to address that gap.”

The pilot will activate strategic and collaborative partnerships to build toward a scalable model that can be replicated in other communities across B.C. and Canada, enhancing equity of access to health services for underserved Canadians.

“UBC has brought forward a creative and scalable solution to help communities disproportionately impacted by the effects of COVID-19,” says Andrea Barrack, Global Head, Sustainability and Corporate Citizenship, TD Bank Group. “Being a recipient of a TD Ready Challenge grant is a testament to the dedication of its creators to helping our communities emerge from the pandemic more resilient, inclusive, and ready for the continually changing future.”