Drones to save lives in Malawi?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 - 13:56

The Government have confirmed that 10,000 children died of HIV-related illnesses in Malawi in 2014. Judith Sherman, the head of HIV for the UN children’s fund, Unicef, in Malawi, commented;

"Equivalent to a school bus full of youngsters dying every week"

Ms Sherman continued ""Drones could be used to solve the logistical challenge of swiftly delivering HIV/Aids care in rural Malawi,". Ms Sherman had a Eureka moment, whilst in flight and flicking through a magazine about fast food deliveries by drone in Mumbai.

Only half of the young people with HIV have access to treatment, which can be contracted during pregnancy or birth, from an HIV-Positive mother, but their initial diagnosis is often delayed because of the poor state of the roads.

There are only eight specialist laboratories in the country that can do a sophisticated test required for children, which is different to that of an adult and many people find it difficult to access.

Drones can have a revolutionary effect on how the blood samples are transported, cutting waiting times as currently samples from rural HIV clinics need to be transported via motorbike along effectively dirt tracks.
California-based company Matternet has designed a drone as part of an experiment being conducted in partnership with Unicef.

The operating costs are minimal because electricity to recharge the battery is cheaper than diesel fuel for motorbikes, but each drone costs $7,000 (£4,900), so there needs to be a strong business case.

The drone used in the test is programmed to travel along a designated route by passing predetermined way points which are plotted using an app, it is less than a metre long.

No pilot is necessary, instead it requires a health worker with a password and a GPS signal on their mobile phone. At the swipe of a button the vehicle is airborne.