Countrywide drone deployment in Rwanda’s malaria fight

Having joined other African countries that include Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa in using drone technology to fight malaria, the Rwandan government has been happy with the work the drones have been doing so far.

That is why the malaria drone project – being undertaken by the government in collaboration with local drone services company Charis UAS – will now be scaled to more places across the country, outside the pioneer districts of Kabuye, Jabana and Gasabo.

The project kicked off in July 2020, with Eric Rutayisire, founder and CEO of Charis UAS, explaining that his company was working with the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) to develop a protocol on how to use drones and advanced 3D geospatial data to tackle the rise of malaria in the country.

“We use Artificial Intelligence models to detect mosquito breeding sites, develop “signatures” of these sites, and collect data for deep analysis,” Chairs UAS company said in 2020, adding that the information gathered will be transmitted to authorities for further action and investigation.

“The final and most important step in this technologically advanced malaria eradication program is targeted spraying. UAVs are equipped with the necessary larvicide tools to spray multiple hotspots quickly and safely. By targeting disease-carrying mosquitoes at their inception point, drones eliminate their numbers as well as reduce the need for interventions such as home and indoor spraying.

“Eradicating the number of disease-carrying pests leads to a lower infection rate, saves lives, and contributes to the positive development of national economies. Drone technology also has knock-on effects; as governments would be able to use mosquito breeding ground mapping to not only attack hotspots but also incorporate this knowledge into agriculture and land management planning.”

The idea was to supplement the current measures for controlling malaria by using drones to target mosquitoes at their breeding sites.

Using drones, the drone company first mapped the mosquito breeding sites, then flew crops spraying drones to spread chemicals that would stop mosquitos from multiplying.

Before drones, most of these areas were mostly inaccessible and were proving a perfect haven for mosquito breeding. 

“(But) this approach proved to be extremely effective and three times faster than manual spraying. Moreover, the spraying is quite precise in reducing mosquito larvae densities,” the company said in a statement.

“As a result of the successful pilot project phase of eight months; in Kabuye (336 ha); in Jabana sector in Gasabo district as identified by RBC, findings have showed that the average mosquito larvae density was reduced by 89.6 percent.

“The average anopheles’ mosquito larval density reduced by 92.8 percent, and there was a drastic decline of malaria incidence at Kabuye health centre, where malaria cases dropped by 90.6 percent, from 12,041 cases to 1,129 cases in comparison with data reported from July 2019-February 2020 and July 2020-February 2021.”

Now, this intervention is still being scaled across the country in several Districts in Rwanda such as Rugende, Kamonyi, Huye, Rusizi, Nyamasheke, and many others.

According to New Times, health minister Dr Sabin Nsanzimana commended his government’s collaborative efforts with Charis UAS and emphasized the importance of using a combination of technologies and innovations to combat diseases like malaria.

Rwanda records about 3.7 million malaria cases annually.


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