India / India-made drone delivers COVID-19 vaccines in Manipur, a first in South Asia

Zoom News : Oct 05, 2021, 08:23 AM
New Delhi: Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Monday launched Indian Council of Medical Research's (ICMR) drone response and outreach (called i-Drone) for the Northeast region. The project was launched from Nagaland and marks the government's first step towards undertaking delivery of Covid-19 vaccine in the remote corners of the country using drones.

The ICMR-led pilot project has been approved for Nagaland, Manipur and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

"This is the first commercial flying of a drone in South Asia. A distance of 31km was covered in 13-15 minutes," said Mandaviya after the virtual ceremony.

"It's not only for vaccine supply, we'll also transport blood samples and essential medicines using drones in the future," he added.

The minister further said that 9.1 million vaccine doses have been administered in the country so far.

Earlier this year, the ministry of civil aviation (MoCA) and directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA) granted conditional exemption to ICMR for conducting feasibility study of Covid-19 vaccine delivery using drones. The ICMR has partnered with IIT-Kanpur for the project.

The Centre said that the exemption will be valid for a period of one year or until further orders.

After the approval, HLL Infra Tech Services Limited, on behalf of ICMR, began testing delivery of medical supplies (vaccines/drugs) by Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) at select locations in India.

The company said that ICMR will engage UAV operators to operate beyond visual line of site (BVLOS) in fixed pre-defined or pre-approved flight paths and deliver Covid-19 vaccine.

BVLOS drone flights are those that go beyond 500-700 metres from the eye's vision or beyond the visual line of sight.

Drones have been very useful in providing last mile deliveries, and reaching places which are difficult to access. In India, they have been used by authorities in some cities to keep a check at crowd when the Covid-19 pandemic spread last year.

In Ghana, a delivery service Zipline has been using drones to give Covid-19 vaccines to people living in remote areas. According to a report in Forbes, Zipline has partnered with the government of Ghana to provide these vaccines which have been received as part of COVAX - a global initiative to give equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines. The initiative is supported by the World Health Organization (WHO).