‘Medicine from Sky’ through Drones – Making Healthcare Accessible

“Drones are going to be the next big thing in healthcare industry in India, as we move towards achieving universal healthcare”, said Ms. Priyadarsini Suresh, Researcher, Public Health Foundation of India.

To learn and understand various application of drones in the healthcare indsutry, building drones specific to the healthcare needs, the need for a skilled workforce in the drone sector, and the potential to fly drones in remote areas, we spoke to Ms. Priyadarsini Suresh, Researcher, Public Health Foundation of India.

Here are the excerpts from our conversation; you can watch the full video interview on our YouTube channel.

About Ms. Priyadarsini Suresh

Ms. Priyadarsini Suresh is one of the early women drone pilots in India who completed her drone training at the Telangana Aviation Academy, Hyderabad. She works as a researcher at the Public Health Foundation of India in a department dedicated to human resources. The department’s top priorities are universal primary healthcare and taking healthcare to people’s doorstep. However, while researching on universal healthcare, they discovered that there were several logistic issues which could be addressed with the help of drones.

Drones – The “Next Big Thing” in Healthcare

Talking about why drones are going to be the next big thing in healthcare, Ms. Priyadarsini Suresh enthusiastically said, “We were the first in India to fly a box of pharmaceuticals with the help of drone in 2015. Since then, we have been figuring out certain challenges in using drones for healthcare, like the availability of specialized drones that can take the necessary load, the distance it can fly, etc. There is a huge requirement for drones in the healthcare sector.”

Difficulty in accessibility like the poor road infrastructure in faraway villages makes it difficult for people to travel by road and delivery medicines, vaccines or other medical devices. This makes the way for drones in healthcare. Short-range drones cannot be used for long distances and this makes availability of long-range drones a necessity. In an ideal situation, drones should be modular or at least be able to indicate the temperature level. Each medicine and vial should have a varied temperature so there cannot be a single cooling box. There is a need to develop long-range, heavy-payload drones for healthcare in the future.

Drones in Healthcare in India

With government initiatives like ‘medicines from sky’, there is a significant room for thinking outside the boundaries of various applications of drones like photography, videography, and surveying.   “People’s interest has also grown beyond capturing pictures or videos using drones to more practical uses, like carrying medicines and vaccines, which is much needed in India,” expressed Ms. Priyadarsini Suresh.

Building drones specific to healthcare industry

There is a need to think of various applications of drones in healthcare and build drones specific to the industry. Unlike the drones used in photography and videography, the medical drones have to carry certain loads to long distances. Therefore, drone manufacturers should keep these applications of drones in mind while building them.

For using drones for medical purposes, there are particular requirements and specifications that must be met. For example, to send medicines from a district hospital to Primary Health Centers (PHCs), one should have all the information needed to fly a drone.

The requirements needed to fly medical drones:

  • Specific temperatures for each item (medicines, vials, injections, glucose, or other devices)
  • Control boxes with specific temperatures should be very rigid and not loose
  • Making sure how many medicines that PHC requires and how many items can fit
  • After the requirements are known, a plan for how many times the drone can fly is needed

Flying drones for a long distance

Ms. Priyadarsini Suresh noted that, for using drones to transport medicines and related materials, time and distance are critical. Every hour counts as a “golden hour” to make things reach quickly. Thus, the need to create a green corridor to fly the drones.

“Though time is an important factor, drones to be able to fly long distances is also crucial. The next important thing that the government and people from the industry need to focus on is to build drones that can fly long distances. Now, we fly drones for the visual line of sight, so the next step should be able to fly drones beyond the line of sight,” emphasized Ms. Priyadarsini Suresh.

Drone Pilot Training at the Telangana Aviation Academy

“The people in the academy train you one-on-one. Right from teaching how to hold the drone, what are various functions available, etc. It was a good experience for researchers like us to explore drones, drone technology and get hands-on experience on it”, expressed Ms. Priyadarshini Suresh.

The need for skill training in the drone sector

Skill development programs are the need of the hour in the drone sector. For any drone to fly in sky, there is a need for skilled and trained professionals. In healthcare industry, flying and handling a drone requires at least 6 to 10 people. As the drone sector expands and grows, there will be a need for more trained professionals.  There are many training centres in India, where interested people can train and get skilled in different areas.

Some of the in-demand job roles in the drone sector would be –

  • Drone pilots
  • Technicians
  • Drone maintenance workers
  • Drone Assemblers, among others.

 

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