Health Minister launches ICMR’s drone-based vaccine delivery model

This technology may prove a game changer in addressing the challenges in health care delivery, particularly health supplies in difficult areas, said Mansukh Mandaviya, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare
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Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Mansukh Mandaviya yesterday launched ICMR’s Drone Response and Outreach in North East (i-Drone).

Speaking during the launch, he said, “This is for the first time that a “Make in India’ drone has been used in South Asia to transport COVID vaccine over an aerial distance of 15 kms in 12-15 mins from Bishnupur district hospital to Loktak lake, Karang island in Manipur for administration at the PHC. The actual road distance between these locations is 26 kilometres.”

He further added, “India is a home to geographical diversities and drones can be used to deliver essentials to the last mile. We can use drones in delivering important life-saving medicines and collecting blood samples. This technology can also be used in critical situations. It may prove a game changer in addressing the challenges in healthcare delivery, particularly health supplies in difficult areas.

“Our immunisation programme for COVID-19 has already exceeded all expectations. I strongly believe that this initiative will further help us achieve the highest possible immunisation coverage for COVID-19. Incorporating such drone technologies into the national programmes would help deliver other vaccines and medical supplies as quickly as possible.”

Despite the effective and safe vaccine administration in the states and union territories (UTs), the vaccine delivery among tough and hard-to-reach terrains of India is still challenging. This i-Drone has been designed to overcome these challenges by deploying Unmanned Aerial vehicles (UAV)/drones to remote areas and hard-to-reach terrains. Currently, the drone-based delivery project has been granted permission for implementation in Manipur and Nagaland, as well as the union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Island.

ICMR conducted an initial study in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, to test the capacity of drones to carry and transfer vaccines safely. The study was conducted in Manipur, Nagaland and Andaman and Nicobar. These studies provided promising results on the basis of which the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA), Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and other regulatory authorities have granted permission to fly drones beyond the Visual Line Of Sight.

Expressing his confidence in the initiative and noting that it can be helpful in delivering not only the vaccines, but also other medical supplies, the minister said that it will help in overcoming the gaps in the current vaccine delivery mechanisms.

Other dignitaries present during the inauguration included Rajesh Bhushan, Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; Dr Balram Bhargava, Director General, ICMR and other senior officers from the ministry, state governments and ICMR.

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