Thursday, September 16, 2021

How Telangana’s drone experiment could drive health care in India

Hyderabad: On September 11, a drone ferrying 12 kg of medicines and 20 vials of vaccines over 6 kms in five minutes to a primary health centre in the Telangana’s Vikarabad district marked the first step in a paradigm shift in health delivery. It was the first ever public service drone to set off on the Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLoS), that is over a distance of 500 metres, to deliver medicines.

This is a first of its kind initiative by the government of Telangana, done in partnership with the World Economic Forum, NITI Aayog and HealthNet Global of the Apollo Hospitals group. “For this, we have a well-established emerging technology corridor with a separate policy for drones in place,” says K.T. Rama Rao, Telangana’s major industries and information technology minister. “Telangana has always acted as a test bed for innovative solutions to support scaling across the nation.”

The September 11 drone trip signified the launch of the state’s unique ‘Medicine from the Sky’ project being taken up on a pilot basis in 16 green zones in the state and which is to be scaled up to the national level after analysing the data for three months. Also, on the same day, two other drones were tested in Vikarabad district—ferrying 5 kgs over 5 km and then back. They carried a thermometer to measure the temperature inside the box as maintaining low temperatures are vital for vaccines and medicines. The three drones were developed by the Hepicopter, comprising Marut Dronetech and Public Health Foundation of India, Blue Dart Med Express, comprising Blue Dart and Skye Air, and Curis Fly with TechEagle Innovations.

Vikarabad was picked for the launch of the project because it has public health centres in far flung areas and gives operators the experience to provide services in other districts. Drones, which are in communication with the command centre at all times, are designed to fly from a mobile launch pad equipped with refrigerators and freezers. Area hospitals will double up as command centres for drone operations. In case the drone loses contact with the command centre, it is programmed to land safely on its own.

In the Medicine from the Sky project, drones can carry 16 kgs and fly up to 40 km. Each box with the drone is designed to carry 1,000 to 2,000 vaccine vials. The capabilities vary. “Hepicopter, with the current class of drones, can support vaccination in remote areas by transporting about 2,000 to 5,000 doses of vaccines at two to eight degrees Celsius in one trip over a straight-line distance of 20 to 40 km,” says Prem Kumar Vislawath, founder Marut Dronetech, adding that a pair of drones can make around 10 trips daily.

15/09/21 Amarnath K Menon/India Today

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