The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has released a guidebook for the use of drones in the healthcare system because unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones have a high potential to transport medical supplies faster than any other service in the difficult terrains. However, there is currently insufficient evidence about the acceptability and operational issues of using drones to deliver medical supplies on a regular basis.

Looking into the significant area of drone-based delivery planning, the identification of the healthcare workers at the district hospitals and the distribution centres is of utmost importance. Moreover, the guidebook has mentioned that the “healthcare workers” under the “universal immunisation programme” should be engaged in such operations due to their experience in the management of health supplies. It also speaks of the validation of the qualitative training of the healthcare workers by pre and post-test assessments. Also, trained drone pilots and other human resources are required along with flight plans and maintenance of drones.

The guidebook also discusses how to choose drones based on the type of operation, medical supplies to be transported, distance to be covered, and other factors. Transporting drones and their components from the manufacturing site to the operational site is a difficult task.

The medical supplies that are to be transported by drones are vaccines and serums (storage temperature should be between 2 degree Celsius to 8 degree Celsius), tablets, syrups, creams, lotions, gloves, syringes, mesh clothes, first-aid kits, PPE kits and so on. Depending on the type of medical supplies, it is important to consider the proper container volume, temperature and stability. According to the ICMR’s feasibility assessment, two options for efficient drone-based delivery have been proposed: either a drone connecting two district hospitals or a drone connecting primary or community health centres with district hospitals. Payload boxes are to be customised based on the medical supplies being delivered along with their quantity.

The book has also mentioned several steps to be followed in the case of unforeseen events such as the loss of flying drones due to technical failure, adverse weather during mid-flight, and so on. The ICMR in collaboration with the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA), Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Airports Authority of India (AAI) may also make necessary changes, if needed, regarding the drone-based delivery plan.