Malawi: medicine delivered by drone

Drones can deliver medicines very quickly – even to remote locations. In Africa in particular, they could be extremely helpful in fighting the pandemic.

It may sound futuristic, but in Malawi it’s already fact: drones without pilots onboard are delivering medical supplies. Since 2018, German drone manufacturer Wingcopter and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH have been working together to deliver medicines to remote regions by air. In an initial test phase, supplies were delivered to an island in Lake Victoria in Tanzania, and the current pilot project in Malawi has been under way since November 2020. The drones have already completed flights totalling around 800 kilometres in Malawi. Wingcopter and GIZ can also draw on experience from the previous “Future II” project in the region, where, in cooperation with DHL, 250 flights transported 75 kg of medication and medical supplies.

Speed is of the essence in health care. In developing countries and emerging economies, life-saving medication is often not accessible on the spot. Poor roads and the lack of refrigeration mean they cannot be delivered at short notice either. This is where the drones come in. In remote areas in particular, they can significantly reduce waiting times for patients and thus save lives.

In Malawi, GIZ is also supporting the establishment of an academy specialising in drone and data technology, working on behalf of the German Development Ministry (BMZ) and the European Union (EU) in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Here, the experts of the future learn how to construct and steer drones and evaluate data. Malawi intends to build on this basis to utilise the technology for preventive health care and disaster relief.

Now, in the pandemic, the drones could become even more important. Some of the COVID-19 vaccines developed so far need to be stored at very low temperatures, making rapid, smooth transportation even more vital. Drones could be used for this in areas where access is difficult. The team in Malawi is already preparing initial options for distribution. But first of all, of course, the vaccine itself must be available. And that is going to take much longer in Malawi than in Europe.

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