UK drone manufacturer and humanitarian assistance specialist UAVaid successfully completed the first uncrewed aerial delivery of medicines in Sierra Leone, opening the way for wider healthcare operations to follow.
The trial was run by UAVaid last month in collaboration with the Sierra Leone Directorate of Science Technology & Innovation (DSTI). The satisfaction with its success as a use-case demonstration is understandable: In ferrying medical supplies from the town of Rotifunk to a community health facility in Mabang, the drone slashed the usual road delivery time of two hours down to a mere 13 minutes.
That achievement opens the door for the broadening of Sierra Leone’s Medical Drone Delivery Project (MDDP), which aims to improve healthcare in one of the planet’s poorest nations.
That plan initially calls for making drone deliveries to 250 established community health centers and hospitals across Sierra Leone. UAVaid will then be asked to fly medicines and supplies to remote and difficult-to-access communities, whose populations often suffer disease and death that easily obtainable treatment elsewhere routinely prevents or cures.
UAVaid will be assisted in the operational aspect of medical drone deliveries by Melbourne-based logistics specialist Swoop Aero. International nonprofit development group Crown Agents is also assisting in the MDDP effort, and is supplying partial funding along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
When it’s fully up and running the MDDP will introduce a rapid dispatch capability into Sierra Leone’s existing medical supply chain. Central to that will be the distribution of 42 of the most essential materials Sierra Leone’s National Medical Supply Agency lists as essential to reduce maternal and infant mortality, which officials hope to halve by 2023.
Fully 15% of the country’s national budget is being allocated to increasing access to, and improving the quality of healthcare services – with fast, efficient, and affordable drone deliveries of medical supplies a big part of that.
“Specifically, in addition to contributing to the reduction of maternal-related deaths, the use of drones presents the possibility of numerous cross-sectoral use-cases and fosters informed decision-making at the highest levels of government,” said David Manley, MDDP leader at DSTI.
In assisting that, UAVaid will rely on its proprietary Hansard drones operating beyond visible line of sight deliveries of medical supplies to places unused to seeing regular inflows of healthcare assets – much less cutting-edge UAVs coming to pay a call.
“We are extremely proud to be partnering with the government of Sierra Leone on such an important project and helping to improve the healthcare systems of the nation,” said UAVaid cofounder Daniel Ronen. “The use of drones helps overcome the numerous transport and data gathering challenges inherent in operating in such complex contexts.”
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