Snakes spur Meghalaya experiment on drone delivery of medicines

Access to life-saving drugs such as anti-venom vials has been a major issue, says official

Updated - September 25, 2019 12:44 pm IST

Published - September 25, 2019 12:23 pm IST - GUWAHATI

Image used for representational purpose.

Image used for representational purpose.

Venomous snakes have played a role in an experiment to deliver life-saving drugs to remote areas of Meghalaya by drones.

The National Health Profile of the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence published in 2017 said snakebite killed 1,770 people across the eight north-eastern States in 2016. Meghalaya and Tripura recorded the most victims – 404 each – followed by Assam with 265 and Sikkim with 242.

However, research by a team of herpetologists revealed that the availability of anti-snake venom vials for 4 crore people of the region was 0.004% that year.

“Access to life-saving drugs such as anti-venom vials has been a major issue in Meghalaya. The number of snakebite cases is one of the reasons behind trying out drones for carrying medicines to remote areas,” Calvin H. Kharshiing, Planning Advisor of North Eastern Council (NEC), told The Hindu from Meghalaya capital Shillong on Wednesday.

The NEC, a nodal agency for funding developmental projects in the region, had initiated a pilot project on drone delivery of medicines and blood a week ago. The project is being undertaken in collaboration with the North Eastern Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Health and Medical Sciences (NEIGRIHMS) and North Eastern Space Application Centre (NESAC), both in Shillong.

“We began discussing the project with NEIGRIHMS and NESAC two months ago. The report after completion of the pilot project will be studied for the way ahead with necessary clearances from multiple agencies and customisation of the drones, particularly for transporting blood,” Mr. Kharshiing said.

Apart from poor surface communication, many rural areas of Meghalaya do not have proper healthcare facilities. The State is also hamstrung by the shortage of trained manpower.

Meghalaya has several species of snakes such as the monocled cobra, king cobra, coral snake and green pit viper. But anti-venom for two predominantly neurotoxic snakes such as monocled cobra and banded krait is not available in the region.

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