To foster UAV tech, there is also a need to have an ecosystem that can impart skills necessary to fly drones over long distances

Hyderabad: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or drones have been hailed as the next big technology that can possibly change healthcare delivery mechanism in the country. In the last decade, multiple attempts have been made by governments, scientific institutions, voluntary organisations and researchers across India to explore different applications of UAVs in the healthcare sector.

While a sustainable and cost-effective UAV technology model in healthcare services is yet to be developed, the general consensus among the stakeholders is that drones are a proven technology and can be safely employed to transport of vital payload like lifesaving drugs, vaccines etc to remote locations and can even be deployed for long range transport.

Experts who have been tracking the development of UAV technology in the last one decade said that governments at the Centre and State are promising universal health coverage for all individuals. However, universal coverage of healthcare can’t be implemented without drone technology.

A fully developed drone technology system will enable governments to transport life saving drugs, vital medical products and vaccines to the most underserved sections of the society, instead of forcing them to travel long distances to government healthcare facilities.

There are many districts even in Telangana where it takes individuals at least half-a-day to travel to the nearest PHC and another half-day to return. In such situations, a well-supported UAV initiative by State government and private institutions will go a long way in making healthcare accessible and the drone technology sustainable.

“In our experience, we have realised that there is a need to have operational efficiency while employing drone technology in healthcare. You need to have a sustainable model for long-term survival and relevance of the drone technology in healthcare delivery. For instance, in Telangana, you don’t require 30 or 33 different drone facilities in as many districts to cater to patients. Optimally located four to five drone facilities are enough to cater to the need of all the underserved sections of the society,” says Dr. Suresh Munuswamy, Head (Technology Innovations and Health Informatics), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).

Dr Suresh, who has been involved in UAV research for over a decade, said that drones with small payloads covering short distances will not survive on the long run. “Heavy payload and long range drones are necessary for sustainability and financial relevance. A drone carrying 2 kg for 20 km can’t survive in the long run because there is no financial viability,” he says.

Drones Vital For Medicines With Short Shelf Life:

There are many expensive life saving drugs with short shelf life of 6 months to 12 months, which have to be stored in every district. If such drugs are left unused, then they have to be discarded. Instead of storing such expensive drugs at 30 different locations, they can be stored in 4 to 5 places and using long range drones, can be transported to any location at the earliest.

Multiple Payloads For Sustainability:

For long-term sustainability cost efficiency, UAVs must be employed to carry multiple payloads. “Multiple payloads like medicines, monthly ration and other government supplies can be transported at one-go by using long range drones. By doing this, the implementing agencies will be able to save a lot of expenditure,” says Dr Suresh.

Reduce Costs:

To foster UAV technology in various sectors, there is also a need to have an ecosystem comprising institutions that can impart skills necessary to fly drones over long distances and local servicing and spare-part manufacturing companies. At present, a majority of spare parts of UAVs are imported and there are not many ‘Make in India’ initiatives involved in locally manufacturing spare parts for drones.