For the global pharmaceutical industry, transporting vaccines and medicines to where they are needed is a delicate process. Many drugs, particularly life-saving vaccines, need to be used quickly and transported in a strict temperature-controlled environment. In fact, over $250-billion worth of temperature-sensitive medicine is sold each year.

According to the Seabury Group, 0.5 million tonnes of pharmaceutical products are transported by air every year – against 3.5 million tonnes by sea. But the value of this air freight is around $213 billion against the $56 billion value of sea freight – and it is increasing every year by around 6% a year. 

Aviation is often the only choice to deliver these supplies where they are needed. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that over 20 million children are under-vaccinated and remain at risk of being infected by vaccine-preventable diseases, but by 2015, some 4-5 million child deaths a year will be prevented by immunisation programmes.

According to WHO in its Global Vaccine Action Plan 2011–2020: As new vaccines (for example, against dengue and malaria) become available and underutilised vaccines (for example, those against cholera, human papillomavirus, rabies, rotavirus, rubella and typhoid) are administered more widely, supply and logistics systems – already burdened – will face an even greater need for innovations.

Cargo airlines and logistics companies continue to invest heavily in temperature-controlled air-freight depots at airports so these life-saving vaccines and medicines can be sped swiftly to the point of greatest need.