Hyderabad: The State government in collaboration with several institutions is launching a concerted effort to scale up and adopt drone technology to address last and middle mile logistics that impact healthcare services at government hospitals in Telangana.
Like in every other State, there are Primary Health Centres (PHCs) in districts like Nirmal, Asifabad, Adilabad, Mancherial, Nizamabad etc., where Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) workers and Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANMs) travel a long distance to reach and extend health services, especially to administer much needed life-saving drugs and vaccines to the local population.
Realising these difficulties, the State government had approached the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation seeking permissions to utilise Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for such applications. In March this year, during the second Covid wave, the Ministry granted conditional exemption from Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Rules, 2021 for conducting experimental trials on whether drones can be used to deliver Covid vaccines. The Union Ministry provided an exemption for one year till March 2022 to carry out the experimental delivery of vaccines using drones through the Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) range in Telangana.
As part of the initiative, at least six to eight different organisations with multiple domain experience in drone technology are set to carry out experiments in the coming months here. “On a majority of occasions, life-saving medicines and vaccines are available in government hospitals in district headquarters while the PHC medical officers and their teams struggle to procure these medicines to the PHCs. If we can send the medicines in time using drones, I am sure people in villages will benefit a lot,” says Dr Suresh Munuswamy, Head (Technology Innovations and Health Informatics), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).
Dr Munuswamy, who had been testing drone technology since 2015 and was the first to conduct experimental trials way back in 2015 in Moinabad, Rangareddy district, feels that the time is ripe to experiment with drones. “In the last half a decade, drone technology has matured. Today, we have capable UAVs that have long battery life and can fly longer and carry more weight. We are working with UAVs that can carry at least 16 kg of payload, which means at least 4,000 to 5,000 doses of vaccines in a trip. It is possible to leverage this technology for the greater good,” Dr Munuswamy points out.
While drone technology is highly evolved, the challenge now is to figure out a successful model to apply the technology for the transportation of vaccines and other life-saving drugs. “When it comes to vaccines, there is a need to have proper cold chain management till they are delivered to the PHC from the storage facility. There are different temperature thresholds for vaccines and drugs and these have to be maintained at any cost,” says Dr Munuswamy.
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