Drone solution for safe deliveries

TRIALS for drone-based blood and other medical supplies deliveries in the country have got a new boost, with the United Kingdom government set to fund the project.

The project, like it is for Rwanda, which started the same in October, is aimed at reducing the time spent to send stock to health clinics, particularly those in remote areas, by road or other means.

The UK government has agreed to finance the initiative through the Department for International Development (Dfid), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported yesterday.

But the Dfid could not disclose the amount of money it will dish out as well as funding period for the project to be carried out in the designated capital of Dodoma.

However, it is estimated that flying blood and medical supplies by drone from out of Tanzania’s capital, Dodoma, could save $58,000 (124.7m/-) a year compared to sending them by motorvehicles or motorcycle.

Contacted for comment, the Minister of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Ms Ummy Mwalimu, said the process to initiate the project had already started, noting that the Ifakara Health Institute was pioneer in this initiative. “This is what we call innovation in addressing challenges in the health sector.

With limited resources and poor road infrastructure this project will really help,” she remarked. She said the project will begin with specil focus on saving lives of pregnant women, many of whom die due to childbirthrelated complications, adding: “We will pay more attention to areas that aren’t easy to reach.”

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) report released last year, the country loses 338 women out of 100,000 women due to labour complications every year.

As project comes at a time when the country still grapple with lack of sufficient blood to meet the demand, Ms Mwalimu was assured of boosting collection this year as a result of allocation of enough funds to the Tanzania National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS).

The increased budget is intended for sensitisation campaigns among the members of the public in a move to have more people voluntarily donate blood.According to statistics from the NBTS, it has managed to increase blood from 12,500 in 2005 to 160,000 in 2013.

The collection was still well below even half of the country’s annual demand, which stands at 400,000- 450,000 units as per WHO guidelines.

Chief Executive Director of the Ifakara Health Institute (IHI), Dr Honorati Masanja, told the ‘Daily News’ that in implementing the project, they will work with other institutions in charge of air safety, including Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) and Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA).

Dr Masanja noted that currently, the project is at the stage of documentation, including acquiring certifications.

But the Dfid hinted that the flights are planned to start in early 2017 and when they do it is estimated that the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) could support over 50,000 births a year, cutting down the time mothers and new-borns would have to wait for lifesaving medicine to 19 minutes - reduced from the 110 minutes traditional transport methods would take.

Explaining how the project would operate, Dr Masanja said the health staff at the hospitals in need of medical supplies would be telephoning to the project’s call centre to ask for supplies.

“We expect to distribute about 70 medical products with the drones,” he said.

Earlier in the year, Tanzania also authorised the use of drones at Tarangire National Park as part of an effort to deter animal poachers.

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