Mozambique kicks off Phase 2 of Drones for Health Project
Maputo, MOZAMBIQUE – Mozambique can legitimately claim that it is the first country country in Southern Africa – or indeed one of the first on the whole continent – to explore the magic of a medical drone across its skies, when health officials in the country worked with healthcare delivery non-governmental organisation VillageReach to launch the first phase of a delivery drone project.
That process started way back in 2015; with the first phase of the project mainly concerned with safety and feasibility testing; VillageReach had to get government permission to import and use the drones and explore the costs and benefits of implementing them into the humanitarian healthcare delivery operations; which at the time were centred around road transport.
Suffice to say the parties involved in the project – the Mozambican government, VillageReach, their drone partner Swoop Aero and other partners – were satisfied with how Phase 1 went.
Because on Thursday, the National Health Institute (INS), the Health Sector of Inhambane, VillageReach and Swoop Aero, announced that they were starting the second phase of the study for the use of drones to transport laboratory samples for infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, tuberculosis, HIV, and medical products.
After the first phase of the trials proved the assumption that drone transport does not compromise the quality of laboratory samples compared to ground transport, the INS then recommended future studies at the national level to allow validation of the use of drones in real world conditions.
Called Drones for Health Phase 2, the study will be carried out in four district hospitals and three health facilities in the districts of Mabote, Inhassoro, Guvuro, Vilanculos, Funhaloro and Massinga, in the province of Inhambane, in southern Mozambique.
For the coming six months, daily flights to selected health facilities will provide timely access to laboratory tests, vaccines and other emergency supplies in an effort to support the response to public health emergencies and improve medical and drug assistance for the rural population.
“With this study, we hope to obtain pleasing results to improve the efficiency in the national health system, regarding the care of the population in areas that are difficult to access,” said Sofia Viegas, National Director of Public Health Laboratories of the INS.
“The first phase of the study showed promising results for what was our goal, which was to verify the sample quality, safety and feasibility of using drones in the transportation of samples of COVID-19 and tuberculosis. Today we are encouraged because we have started the second phase, whose scope is wider and the medical products to be transported are diversified.”
In introducing the daily collection of laboratory samples via drone, the health delivery partners are expecting the autonomous medical delivery vehicles to help provide quicker diagnosis of infectious diseases, leading to faster treatment of patients.
About 100,000 people in the region are expected to benefit directly from this study.
“The drones offer progress in epidemiological disease surveillance and early detection of outbreaks,” said Rotafina Donco, VillageReach Country Director. “This becomes especially important for under-reached communities at the last mile. It also creates more equitable access to rapid diagnosis and treatment for rural populations, fulfilling the promise of primary health care services for all.”
Whether coming or going, the partners will have the drone carrying a package (test samples going one way and medical supplies the other); the two-way capability ensuring that deliveries of health products, including drugs, reagents, samples, and other supplies, are expedited and the shortage of laboratory test kits, immunisation kits, and other health products in these communities are avoided.
According to the statement from VillageReach, the Drones for Health program in Inhambane is part of the multi-phase approach to establish routine drone operations in Mozambique.
When all the t’s were crossed and i’s dotted, the first phase finally took off in earnest in Maputo province in 2018 until 2020, and covered the generation of evidence on the potential benefits and costs of drone transport. This included a study, led by INS that transported 140 laboratory samples of COVID-19, 160 tuberculosis samples, flying a total of 10 hours in the air, while the tuberculosis samples were transported by ground in parallel.
Eric Peck, CEO of VillageReach’s drone partner Swoop Aero said; “We are very pleased to continue expanding operations in Mozambique to increase our reach and impact in the region. These operations bring us closer to meeting our primary goal, which is to provide a drone logistics service to 100 million people by 2025 and reach one billion people by 2030.”
Focusing Philanthropy and its community of donors for this campaign provided the funding for Phase 2 of the program. INS, VillageReach, and health partners in Inhambane are seeking funding for the continuation and expansion in Inhambane and other areas.