Drone healthcare service trial launched in E/Kameng

SEPPA, 16 Aug: A trial to utilise drones to provide superior healthcare services to the rural communities in East Kameng district was launched on 15 August by Chief Minister Pema Khandu virtually.

Redwing Labs will provide ‘made in India’ hybrid vertical takeoff and landing drones and run end-to-end operations under the project.

The drone network is being set up on a limited experimental basis to pilot aerial healthcare deliveries in the state. The network will enable diagnostics and emergency treatments at the local health centres.

“The initiative is the outcome of multiple stakeholders collaborating to improve healthcare access to communities in remote areas,” according to a press release.

This includes the government of Arunachal, the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) ‘medicines from the sky’ initiative and Redwing Labs, with funding support from the SAMRIDH healthcare blended financing facility – an initiative supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by IPE Global.

By delivering medical supplies up to eight times faster than road-based logistics, the drone network will serve the population of East Kameng by offering a better quality of care in the interior blocks.

Speaking about the collaboration with Redwing Labs, SAMRIDH project director Himanshu Sikka said, “SAMRIDH is committed to enable scaling up of innovative healthcare solutions by improving their access to affordable capital and technical assistance. Our collaboration with Redwing Labs gives us a tremendous opportunity to address supply-chain shortcomings in the healthcare sector to address access and affordability of quality healthcare for the vulnerable populations. We will also be providing impact evaluation assistance that could be useful to develop the drone policy for future drone-based healthcare delivery projects.”

Highlighting the impact of the initiative, DC Pravimal Abhishek Polumatla said, “East Kameng district has a very hilly terrain, which makes it difficult to access interior areas, particularly during monsoons. I am sure the drone-based drug delivery will be a game changer in strengthening access to healthcare in such remote areas.”

“By enabling care at the local level, the drone network aims to reduce out-of-pocket expenditure for patients, increase immunisation rates and improve welfare gains,” the release said.

Tracing the background of the project, Aerospace and Drones Lead Vignesh Santhanam said, “In mid-2021, we undertook a field study in Arunachal Pradesh to learn more about the local health distribution system, disease profile and nature of the terrain. Traversing the Seppa-Bameng belt by road in particular made it evident that drones were an absolute necessity. Through our learnings in Telangana, we are looking to stress test our systems in Arunachal Pradesh under the liberalised drone regime while factoring in economic principles right from the point of initiation.”

Highlighting the technical aspects of the project, Redwing Labs CEO Anshul Sharma said, “We are hopeful that this trial will give quantifiable data points on cost and supply chain behaviour for drones in public healthcare to kickstart mass adoption. We are pleased and deeply grateful to USAID-supported SAMRIDH initiative and the WEF for their support in this project.”