Drones ferry medical supplies in trial


The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has undertaken a drone delivery pilot project in the rugged terrains of Lahaul & Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh, to assess the feasibility of aerial transportation of crucial medical supplies including medications, diagnostic blood samples, and sputum.

This initiative, backed by state health authorities and administrative support from Keylong, was launched with an inaugural flight that ferried over 100 units of essential medications from the Police grounds in Keylong to the Tholang Primary Health Center (PHC), covering a distance of approximately 20 kilometers. Notably, the drone soared from an altitude of 11,500 ft to 14,500 ft above sea level amidst sub-zero temperatures of -15°C.

The aerial journey, which would conventionally take about 2 hours by road—often prolonged due to snowfall—was completed in a mere 26 minutes. On its return, the drone carried TB sputum samples, blood samples, and various diagnostic specimens back to Keylong for detailed analysis.

ICMR’s foray into drone deliveries aims to bridge the healthcare accessibility gap in remote and inaccessible areas by expediting the distribution of vital medical resources from regional hospitals in Keylong to over eight PHCs spread across locations such as Sissu, Gondhal, Thiort, Tholang, Jahalma, Gemur, Darcha, and Shansha.

This ‘i-DRONE’, initially deployed during the Covid-19 pandemic for vaccine distribution, had earlier proven its mettle in successfully delivering blood and blood-related products maintained at low temperatures. The ongoing pilot seeks to extend this service to regions with altitudes over 12,000 ft experiencing sub-zero temperatures, potentially transforming the healthcare delivery mechanism in such remote areas.

The meticulous execution and coordination of the project have been entrusted to a dedicated team of scientists from both ICMR-Headquarters, New Delhi, and the ICMR-Regional Medical Research Centre-Gorakhpur.