A case to use drones for primary health care in India
- The study has been authored by Dr.Suresh Munuswamy, MBBS from Madras University, MPH from Oxford Univrersity, PhD from Tokyo University; Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Public Health-Hyderabad
India has over 30,000 primary health centres (PHC) and over 250,000 sub-centres (SC) across the country that serve as the building blocks of government led primary health system. Each PHC serves 20-50,000 people with upstream linkages to district hospital and downstream linkages to about 5-10 SCs. Each of the 748 districts in India has around 20-100 PHCs depending on their population. On paper the primary health care system is a great service network.
In reality, as the saying goes “a chain is only as strong as it weakest link”; the service potential of the primary health system is severely challenged by lack of logistics or supply chain system. PHCs and S’s are located closer to villages and several of them are in rural remote and hard to reach areas. Medical practice or disease management is not just dependent on the presence of a doctor or trained health care staff, but, realistically is dependent on the availability of medicines and availability of diagnostic services. In both cases, effective and efficient medical logistics platforms are required.
Ground reality diverges far from these requirements. In some cases, roads are not available; in some cases roads are not available year round; in some cases roads are available but means of transportation or safe transportation with temperature control is not available on demand. Addressing the issues of logistics is usually not with in the purview of the health department and laying of roads or improving transportation is dependent on several factors which are again not with in the purview of the health department.
In this scenario, medical payload delivery drones have the real potential to resolve persistent access led transportation challenges. It can ensure reliable access to medicines and other supplies, in areas not currently or consistently reached by ground transportation. Drones also have the twin advantage of rapid scaling up and down potential depending on need and for the first time ever, the health department can potentially have complete control over medical logistics instead of being dependent on factors that are outside its purview.
PHFI – Public Health Foundation of India’s SKY BRIDGE programme aims to improve access to vaccines, lab samples and medical products in rural, remote, and hard-to-reach areas.
SKY BRIDGE is based on heavy payload, long range drone paired to a custom developed modular temperature-controlled box (patent pending) platform that can safely and reliably deliver multiple medical payloads simultaneously and improve access to vaccines, lab samples and possibly on demand medical products to primary health centres and sub-centre’s in rural, remote, and hard to reach areas. The drones will be flown from existing ware houses or from custom designed mobile launch pad, complete with fridges, freezers, continuous communication and a real time command centre. SKY BRIDGE is currenly capable of carrying a load of 16 kg and flying 25 km. The payload weight and the range will be quadrupled very soon.
SKY BRIDGE drone platform and system aims to create a digital location optimised network to connect the 30,000 PHCs and over 250,000 SCs across the country, and provide a realistic all requirement connect with in the golden hour. This project will significantly improve health service delivery while saving on the large costs of vaccine expiries, logistics, inventory investment and maintenance. Additionally, the quantified impact to society on reduced unnecessary visits to District hospitals, improved comprehensive health coverage in remote areas leading to Universal Health Care and reduced out-of-pocket expenditure will far outweigh the costs. The medical drone delivery project is designed to be the most affordable investment to provide significant service delivery improvement to the middle and last mile. Additionally, because of continuous real-time monitoring, this project will guarantee very good quality of all delivered medicines before they are administered. A similar improvement in medicine access would be impossible to achieve with existing ground logistics technology, which is not as fast, safe or cost effective as SKY BRIDGE drone based medical logistics system.
The Government of India has recently liberalised the rules and regulation for drones. A productivity linked scheme has been launched to kick start drone production and make India “Atmanirbhar” in drones. Seen in this context SKY BRIDGE drone-based medical logistics network can be become a reality soon.