Photo: Michael Nyffeler, YouTube

Over the last few months, we’ve been working on setting up drones to essential medicines and laboratory samples to and from different areas of the country. Developing such drones with distinct capacities and improved efficiency is hopefully a step towards ending the present-day dependence on road networks to transport medical goods, particularly in the case of rural, remote and far-flung regions in Nepal.

This innovative use of drone technology comes at a time when rural health services have been struggling mightily to supply medicines to those in need throughout the year. Health facilities, including hospitals, health posts and pharmacies, among others, are worryingly ill-equipped, particularly in these less-developed parts. Distribution has been sluggish, owing partly to limited production, as well as obstructions in supply that stem from the challenges of transport over rugged and inaccessible terrain. For patients who are already compelled to travel great distances just to consult a doctor or paramedic, the delays in receiving prescribed medicines cause even more needless suffering. Far too many around the country are being deprived of necessary treatment, leading to worsening of health conditions and even fatalities in many cases.

It was in view of these problems that we at the National Innovation Centre (NIC)—a not-for-profit company that I lead—were keen to find a way out, and we knew that we could not rely on the business-as-usual approach: we needed to identify a solution that made the best possible use of the latest advancements in technology. And so, the Medical Drone Project was initiated, with the fundamental motive of supplying medicines around the country and collecting laboratory samples from patients for pathological testing in a regular manner. Around 15 experts—in the capacity of designers, software developers and mentors—are currently working on the project, and the first prototype is set to be launched in Myagdi within a month’s time.

Drones categorized for the short range will be mobilized within a periphery of 15 kilometers, while those set for long range will travel upto a distance of 45 kilometers. Using autonomous drones in this manner is expected to ease and improve the process of delivering medicines and retrieving samples to and from patients, thereby contributing to more timely, effective treatment and better health overall.

NIC has already made headlines in the recent past for having introduced wireless technological equipment to rural areas around Nepal as a means to socio-economic development. The availability of internet connections and broadband networks have enabled a number of villages to engage in e-learning, online money transfers, online consultations with healthcare professionals, discussions with the broader community and so on. Our vision is to create an environment where innovation and talent can flourish, and ideas that are useful in the country’s context can be concretized and commercialized.

Despite the constraints in accessing funding from the Nepal Government, we have managed to develop and execute these projects. Part of what drives us to keep going is the desire to put a stop to the persistent draining of the country’s young working force to foreign countries—NIC is committed to creating opportunities that will encourage youths to make use of and prosper from utilizing their skills and competencies on home soil.

This is precisely where initiatives like the Medical Drone Project come in, making it possible to visualize a better future for rural development through the application of up-and-coming technological use and talented human resources in the country itself. Not only is the project guaranteed to be a game changer insofar as rural healthcare is concerned, but it also opens the door for similar innovations in the future seeking to address other major challenges of development in Nepal.

About the Author

Dr. Mahabir Pun is the Chairman of the National Innovation Centre, Nepal. He will be one of the presenters at the Conference on Technology for Public Services being organized on 21 March 2018 by UNDP Nepal in partnership with the National Innovatin Centre, Nepal Entrepreneurs Hub, Robotics Association of Nepal, Karkhana, Nepal Communitere, NAST/GoN,  FNCCI/Innovation Hub, Ministry of Science and Technology


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