An experimental trial to utilise drones to provide superior healthcare services to tribal and rural communities in Seppa, a town in East Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh, was launched on Monday.

The USAID-supported SAMRIDH initiative will assist Redwing Labs to provide ‘made in India’ hybrid Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) drones and run end-to-end operations for the project.

The healthcare drone pilots in Arunachal Pradesh are an outcome of the State’s partnership with the World Economic Forum’s ‘Medicines From the Sky’ (MFTS) initiative, said a press release.

Limited experimental basis

The drone network is being set-up up on a limited experimental basis to pilot aerial healthcare deliveries in the State. The network would enable diagnostics and emergency treatments in the local health centers. By delivering medical supplies up to eight times faster than road-based logistics, the drone network would serve the population of East Kameng by offering a better quality of care in the interior blocks, the release said.

The drone network aims at reducing out-of-pocket expenditure for patients, increasing immunisation rates and improving welfare gains

The drone network aims at reducing out-of-pocket expenditure for patients, increasing immunisation rates and improving welfare gains

India started trials and pilots of drone-based deliveries in healthcare in 2021. Multiple States including Telangana, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Odisha and Uttarakhand have done pilots and experimental flights. Drones carried a variety of health products including vaccines, essential drugs and diagnostic samples. Aerial supply chains have immense potential to solve last-mile healthcare challenges and advance SDG-3 in rural, tribal, and semi-urban locations.

Highlighting the impact of this initiative, Pravimal Abhishek, IAS, Deputy Commissioner, East Kameng District, said, “East Kameng District has a very hilly terrain which makes it difficult to access interior areas, particularly during monsoons. I am sure the drone-based drug delivery will be a game changer in strengthening access to healthcare in such remote areas. Hoping that this pilot would give us the answers and clarity for the future.”

By enabling care at the local level, the drone network aims at reducing out-of-pocket expenditure for patients, increasing immunisation rates and improving welfare gains. This experimental network would be accompanied by an impact evaluation study to understand the cost-benefit and health impact of using drones in India’s public health system.

‘Drones — an absolute necessity’

Vignesh Santhanam, Lead for Aerospace and Drones, at the World Economic Forum, said, “In mid-2021, we undertook a field study in Arunachal Pradesh to learn more about the local health distribution system, disease profile, and nature of the terrain. Traversing the Seppa-Bameng belt by road in particular made it evident that drones were an absolute necessity. Through our learnings in Telangana, we are looking to stress test our systems in Arunachal Pradesh under the liberalised drone regime while factoring in economic principles right from the point of initiation.”

According to Anshul Sharma, CEO and Co-Founder, Redwing Labs, “We are hopeful that this trial will give quantifiable data points on cost and supply chain behaviour for drones in public healthcare to kickstart mass adoption.”

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