MONEY MATTERS IN HEALTH & TECH : Drones have great use in healthcare

Monday October 31 2016

Dr George Kanani

Dr George Kanani 

By Dr George Kanani

Drone technology is among emerging and rapidly evolving technologies. This technology has been proven beyond doubt to be very useful in many industries like military, business, arts and of recent, in healthcare delivery.

Around the globe, a good number of technological companies; together with health organizations are now exploring the use of drones in solving longstanding challenges to healthcare delivery. Huge sum of money is being invested in this area and so far the preliminary outcome is indeed promising.

Recent studies show that the global market for commercial application of drone technology is now valued at over $ 130 billion. Drones are simply flying robots. They are unmanned aircrafts that are either remotely controlled or fly autonomously. They are formally called unmanned aerial vehicles-UAVs.

Based on the type of the industry they are engaged, one is able to categorize them into commercial drones, military drones, medical drones etc. Military and Commercial drones are very popular compared medical drones.This technology, as it has always been, is common in developed countries than in developing ones.

For example in the United States, commercial drones are being used to transport online purchased packages to clients’ doorstep.Amazon, through Amazon Prime Air is about to offer service that will deliver packages that weigh up to five pounds in 30 minutes or less using small drones.

Indeed, medical drones have opened up a new platform for which most think if exploited to its full potential, can bring solutions to some of healtcare challenges. Hundreds and hundreds of technological companies are now testing the possibility of using these medical drones in solving healthcare challenges in Africa.

Of recent, Rwanda announced its plans to begin using medical drones in transporting bloods to remote areas.

This project is being performed under Zipline, a US based Tec Company. Rwanda is not the only country that has started exploiting medical drone technology. There are countries like Madagascar and Malawi which have started earlier.

The real question that everyone must be asking, is: What can this medical drone technology do of value to our healthcare system that is full of challenges? Of course, there are areas in healthcare systems that can be positively impacted.

This technology has great potential to solve logistics and supply chain problems. Medical drones are being used in Madagascar for the transportation of laboratory samples from resource limited areas to modern centres.

Blood and TB samples are common samples being transported. This has helped early diagnosis and treatment to those patients living in areas not easily reached.

Drugs, vaccines and many other medical supplies can easily and at a very short period of time be delivered to needy people in times of natural disasters. Think of disasters such as floods—a moment when no other means of transport, medical drones could be saving agents.

Medical drones are attached with cameras that can help in giving live feeds of events like natural calamities. This helps in approximating the damages, the locations, and many other important aspects which are helpful in responding to them.

Setbacks to this medical drone technology are there. The pressing issue is the type and size of the package these drones can carry and deliver safely. Most of them carry very small packages, thus in times of need, large cargo of drugs may be needed.

This technology requires huge capital investment. A lot of money is being pumped into medical drones start-ups.

Their use is also limited by climatic conditions. In windy and storm times, these drones can’t operate well. Heavy rains too can interfere.

There is also issue of national security. This technology can maliciously be used by people with bad intentions to spy and explore issues that might threaten national security. This technology requires strict regulations and control by government agencies.

Medical drones in Tanzania can be very much useful. There are some areas that are remotely located, whose access becomes limited during rainy seasons.

Drones could help in such instances. The most practical use of drones in Tanzania is the use of medical drones in transporting Blood samples for DBS and viral load measurement from health facilities located in rural areas to centres performing these tests.

This could ultimately increase efficiency in treating HIV patients and avoid providing late results of these samples sent via land route.

However, countries such as Tanzania should not start using this technology without taking security precautions.