Another drone delivery project for Uganda

Public health officials in Uganda have launched a pilot project to test drone technology in transporting COVID-19 samples in Northern Uganda.

Called The West Nile Medical Drone Project, the pilot will be implemented in the Adjumani District north of the country, and will run under the aegis of Makerere University’s Infectious Disease Institute (IDI). Flight plans have already been set and the project is set to be good and ready to go next Monday, August 30.

Funding for this pilot have been availed by the United Nations Capital Development Fund.

At which point one might be tempted to ask; what have they been waiting for, this whole time? Medical drones work, and we know they work because they have made over one million flights already in Rwanda and Ghana already, delivering vaccines and samples and other medical whatnots.

But it is not as simple as that. Technology cannot get preferential treatment simply because it is a shiny new toy; it has to solve problems. The road network in areas where drones have been deployed in Rwanda, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo is not one of the best at times; which is why the drones were called in to fill out the gap.

The fact that there were medical supplies and samples to transport will not hurt either.

Apparently, that is the case with Adjumani district, where health officials are hoping the drone technology will overcome geographical and proximity challenges.

Because of the new guy in town, road trips from Adjumani to Gulu City to deliver or collect samples will now be put on hold as the drones will take over.

“Besides, drones will also aid in providing automated medical information and follow up of data, specifically of Covid-19 patients,” IDI’s regional coordinator Gerald Aluma told local media in Uganda. “For example, the drones will fly from Yumbe District to Adjumani in seven minutes while from Moyo to Adjumani which takes approximately 45 kilometres by road, it will fly in only five minutes.”

Adjumani has received five drones for the pilot project, and already the district health officer, Dr Dominic Drametu, is hailing the project as a game changer; even with Aluma insisting that it should not be seen as a disruptor since it complements the current sample collection and transportation system.

“Because drones are fast and flexible, it will suit our work in hard-to-reach places and will go a long way in delivery of drugs and Covid-19, samples. This is also cost-effective and time saving,” Dr Drametu said.

The Adjumani District chairman, Ben Anyama, while happy with the new development, however expressed his worry about prospects of the project sustaining and scaling up beyond the scheduled pilot test period.

“Many partners have come up with projects, but after the project period it becomes hard for the district to continue with the project so do the sustainability plan and avail it to the district,” he said.

At which point we sincerely hope and pray that, as the district chairperson, Mr Anyama and his fellow colleagues at the district headquarters will put in place structures that will ensure the sustenance of the pilot project beyond donor funds, if they value in its continued implementation.

The Ugandan government already has another medical drone pilot project running around Lake Victoria, where the drones are delivering HIV medicines to communities in the Kalangala district area.

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