Telangana trials drones to deliver medical supplies

Indian southern state of Telangana has announced a pilot programme for the delivery of vaccines by drone to remote areas.

The initiative aims to improve equity in healthcare while enabling healthcare access for isolated populations and hazard-prone areas.

Designated air corridors

The trials, which have been organised by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in partnership with the state government of Telangana, Apollo Hospital’s HealthNet Global and NITI Aayog, will be conducted over 28 days in designated air corridors in the district of Vikarabad, Telangana.

The “Medicine from the Sky” trials are focused on laying the groundwork for a more elaborate drone delivery network that will improve access to vital healthcare supplies for remote and vulnerable communities. This is also the first drone programme since India recently liberalised its drone policy, WEF reports.

“Being at the forefront of leveraging emerging technologies, Telangana has always acted as a testbed for innovative solutions to support scaling across the nation,” said KT Rama Rao, minister of information technology, industries, municipal administration and urban development of Telangana.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted that healthcare supply chains can be further strengthened, and drones offer a robust value proposition especially when it comes to remote areas and emergencies.”

He continued: “The Medicine from the Sky is the first of its kind initiative in the country to generate insights that shall benefit the entire ecosystem. The enthusiasm and support by all the partners is deeply appreciated.”

With the support of the Vikarabad municipality, India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation and the Airports Authority of India, the participants claim this will be the first drone-delivered Covid-19 vaccine in Asia.

The project has eight participating partners, including drone operators and experts in healthcare and airspace management among others. Together, these partners will demonstrate short and long-range drone-based deliveries to assess the efficacy of low-altitude aerial logistics in healthcare.

“The forum is pleased to support Indian government and industry in demonstrating how emerging technologies can be used to improve access to healthcare for its most vulnerable populations,” added Timothy Reuter, head of aerospace and drones, World Economic Forum.

“The project has set into motion the adoption of drones to deliver lifesaving services across the country. We believe that India’s work with drones can serve as a model for other countries in the region and beyond.”

An industry core group was commissioned in June 2021 to help scale the effort to bolster last-mile mobility in healthcare. The outcomes from the trials will be analysed and used to scale up the effort to additional states with the support of the Medicine from the Sky community and key stakeholders. The project is expected to be expanded to six states in the coming months.

After extended trials with MMR and influenza vaccines, Covid-19 vaccines will also be transported beyond the visual line of sight.