Here for Good: Harnessing innovation to reach indigenous communities

We’re hunting for new ways to increase patient access, including using drones to deliver medicines to remote communities

June 14, 2023

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Alaska is a vast state with extremes in weather and terrain. For people living in its 240 remote villages and communities, obtaining lifesaving medicines can be a challenge. And extreme challenges call for innovative solutions.

To help, we teamed up with the University of Alaska, a drone provider, local governments and others to demonstrate the use of drones to increase access to medicines in a proof-of-concept project. The drone was outfitted with thermal protection system packaging for the safe delivery of temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals.

Drone technology expands access to medicines where it’s needed most

For our colleague and drone project adviser Leslie Brunette, this is the culmination of work that began more than a decade ago in her hometown of Fargo, North Dakota.

“I was introduced to a young man from a tribal community, and his grandmother had invited me to go and visit him,” said Brunette, who also serves as the global lead for Merck’s Native American and Global Indigenous People employee business resource group. She explained that the young man suffered from a chronic illness, and the remote location of his community meant a trek of two to three hours to be able to access health care. A few years later, he became sick and had to be moved off of the reservation to receive care.

“When he passed away, because of how much we learned about his family and his culture, I knew that more needed to be said and needed to be done. So I made that commitment to continue to try and be a voice that raised and elevated the awareness of indigenous communities across the United States and the world.”

From dog sleds to drone delivery

It’s not the first time we’ve found an innovative way to deliver health care to families in Alaska. The annual Iditarod race commemorates a 1925 sled dog team relay that brought an antitoxin produced by Merck legacy company H.K. Mulford to Nome through blizzard conditions to help fight a deadly epidemic.

We’re proud of our company’s long history of expanding access to medicines and vaccines and working with our partners to create innovative solutions to help people in need.