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Drones Bringing Vaccine May Be Interpreted by Some as Cargo Cult Vindication



(p. A10) In the village of Cook's Bay, on the remote side of the remote island of Erromango, in the remote South Pacific nation of Vanuatu, 1-month-old Joy Nowai was given shots for hepatitis and tuberculosis that were delivered by a flying drone on Monday.

It may not have been the first vial of vaccine ever delivered that way, but it was the first in Vanuatu, which is the only country in the world to make its childhood vaccine program officially drone-dependent.

"I am so happy the drone brought the stick medicine to Cook's Bay as I don't have to walk several hours to Port Narvin for her vaccines," her mother, Julie Nowai told a Unicef representative. "It is only 15 minutes' walk from my home."


.. . .


. . . , about 20 percent of Vanuatu's 35,000 children under age 5 do not get all their shots, according to the United Nations Children's Fund.

So the country, with support from Unicef, the Australian government and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, began its drone program on Monday. It will initially serve three islands but may be expanded to many more.

In the future, that expansion may run into some unusual turbulence -- Vanuatu is one of the few places where "cargo cults" are still active, and the drones match their central religious dogma: that believers will receive valuable goods delivered by airplane.

That will have to be handled carefully, a Unicef representative said.


. . .


. . . : Vanuatu still has adherents of the John Frum movement, one of the South Pacific cargo cults whose adherents pray for valuables arriving from the sky.

The cults date back more than 100 years, but reached their zenith during and after World War II.

Islanders whose ancestors had been kidnapped by whites to work on plantations in Australia and Fiji watched "silver birds" flown in by the Japanese and American militaries disgorge vast amounts of "cargo" -- food, medicines, tools and weapons -- which was sometimes shared with them.

The legend spread that the cargo was gifts from the ancestors, but that it had been intercepted and stolen by the foreigners. After the war ended, the cults built airstrips and model planes to lure the "birds" back.



For the full story, see:

Donald G. McNeil Jr. "'A Buzzing Thing in the Sky' Delivers Vaccines to Vanuatu." The New York Times (Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 17, 2018, and has the title "An Island Nation's Health Experiment: Vaccines Delivered by Drone.")






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