Wanted: delivery drones that can fly 300km

The World Health Organisation and VillageReach’s DMs are open.

The world health body and VillageReach, an international non-profit organisation that seeks health care delivery solutions for every person on earth, are looking for partners with whom to conduct feasibility tests for the use of midrange drones to deliver medicines in the Central African Republic.

Set to be carried out in June and July this year, the trials will see the prospective drone suppliers working with the WHO, VillageReach, government and civil aviation authorities in the CAR in areas that include obtaining government approval for the tests, and demonstration flights over a two-week period.

“Demonstration flights will be conducted between the capital Bangui and a secure landing location, 280-300km (one-way geodesic distance) from Bangui,” wrote VillageReach in their document calling for project partners. “The tentative flight path is over terrain with average elevations between 1,200 ft and 2,600 ft above mean sea level. The cargo will be a minimum of 5kg, and will need to be maintained at a controlled temperature between two and eight degrees Celsius.

“The flights are planned to occur in June or July 2021, in reasonable weather conditions (not during periods of heavy rain or winds exceeding 10 metres per second). In June-July, you can expect maximum temperatures of 25-30 degrees Celsius with an average of 170mm of monthly rainfall, high humidity and 60 percent daily probability of precipitation.

“The vendor will track and record a series of metrics, including payload weight, payload temperature range, speed of the aircraft, the duration of the flights, distance covered, and any problems encountered and resolutions due to weather, mechanical, software or human error, etc. At the conclusion of this project, the vendor will provide all flight data requested including detailed reports of any adverse events (like accidents or incidents).”

Access to health care and health care facilities has been a huge challenge for the citizens of the landlocked CAR – which has battled a humanitarian crisis caused by conflict between government forces and armed groups since 2012 – with transportation of medicines and laboratory samples currently requiring a combination of motorcycle taxis, district vehicles, transport companies, air transportation by the United National Humanitarian Air Services (UNHAS), and sometimes by river.

Said VillageReach; “The WHO country office in the Central African Republic (CAR), has identified a potential opportunity to improve the speed and reliability of polio (which the health ministry has declared a public health emergency) and COVID-19 laboratory sample transportation by integrating UAV transportation into the public health supply chain, which may also serve for the delivery of small quantities of medical supplies (like vaccines, blood products, medicines).

“VillageReach is supporting the WHO to assess the feasibility of longer-range UAV transportation (more than 300 km each way) in CAR. The project aims to conduct UAV demonstration flights in CAR to demonstrate the capability of long-range UAVs to safely and reliably transport health products and to generate basic evidence on the associated costs, potential benefits and operational feasibility of long-range UAV transportation.”

Drones are fast becoming the norm in healthcare logistics; they are delivering medicines to remote areas in countries that include Rwanda, Ghana, Mozambique, Madagascar, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, except for Madagascar where delivery drone maker AerialMetric has made successful test flights for beyond the visual line of sight drone flights over 300km, most deliveries have been in ranges less than 150km with payloads averaging 2kg.

“It is believed that UAVs can increase access to quality health products especially in rural or hard-to-reach areas where the unit cost of delivering health products and developing infrastructure is high. Over the last several years, significant progress has been made in demonstrating the technological feasibility of using less than 150 km range UAVs to transport small, critical payloads to and from hard-to-reach areas across the African continent.

“On the contrary, the technological feasibility of operating longer-range cargo UAVs within the African continent has yet to be determined.

“This project represents an opportunity to identify how long-range UAVs can strengthen an existing transportation network – not just for lab samples but also for vaccines, medicines and supplies – to improve the availability, accessibility, and responsiveness of health services in the Central African Republic. In CAR, this will be the first time that medical products are flown by drone. The data generated from these initial demonstration flights will inform recommendations to the WHO and CAR government around the use of UAVs for an optimized health supply chain, and add to the growing body of literature on drones globally.”

Drone companies and suppliers looking to score the gig will find more information here.

1 Comment

  • Gary Wiseman Reply

    5 March 2021 at 21:03

    As and engineer and naval architect, I am fascinated by the potential of drones across dozens of tasks and in a reach beyond our current imagination! Close your eyes and follow your dreams! Well done!

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