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Drones, the aerial future of India’s healthcare?

Drones may soon become a common sight in the skies of India as research groups look into using them to deliver medicine.

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Public Health, Hyderabad (IIPH-H) have begun working on a drone delivery system which they believe will be quicker and more cost effective than standard deliveries made by road. Such a delivery system could be of great advantage in both a rural and urban setting.

Copyright: <a href=''>phonlamaiphoto / 123RF Stock Photo</a>In urban environments the ability of the drone to land vertically allows for packages to be dropped off practically anywhere with a reasonable amount of open space. The ability to bypass traffic is also a significantly faster means of transferring medical supplies between, for example, hospitals and smaller clinics.

In rural areas drones could deliver supplies to areas that are difficult to reach by road. This could greatly improve access to medicines and devices for populations living in areas that are difficult to reach. It could also potentially begin to address the issue of India’s rural clinics being inadequately stocked with medical supplies.

Currently produced drones could, in theory, transport medical packages. However, issues may be encountered regarding optimum storage temperatures and other conditions which may see the medicines degrade in quality.

IIPH-H’s Digital Drone based Real Time Advanced Medical Modular logistics system (2 DREAM) model is attempting to address this by developing a digital carrier box where the temperature and the payload carried is maintained, monitored and recorded continuously.

Such a system would allow for all manner of medical supplies to be delivered by air. With regulated temperature supplies such as vaccines could be sent to isolated areas. More specialised items such as transplants would also be able to be sent between hospitals via the air.

Research institutes are not the only groups looking into medical drone technology. Goutham Sharma and Jervis Anthony Saldanha – final-year students of the MV Jayaraman College of Engineering (MVJCE) in Bengaluru – have also been designing concepts for drones, with far more far-flung potential.

The students have created a design in which they believe a person weighing around 50 kg or less could be transported in case of emergencies from the scene of an accident to a local medical facility. Should the design prove effective, future incarnations with higher weight limits could form an aerial fleet of drone ambulances.

Currently, the use of drones is highly regulated in India which could hamper attempts at bringing progress in the field of medical drone technology. However, as both of these groups demonstrate, the field could have huge potential for the future.

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