The State government has selected 16 primary healthcare centres (PHCs) spread around Vikarabad area hospital for pilot testing the ambitious ‘Medicine from the sky’, the first-of- its-kind project involving delivery of medicines through multiple drones.
The area hospital has been selected as central point owing to the presence of cold chain facilities and the selected PHCs are both within the Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) and Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) range. A consortium of seven operators headed by Blue Dart Med-Express had been selected for the project to be launched in the VLOS range of 500 metres initially and will be scaled up gradually to 9 km range.
“Based on the success of pilot, we are planning commercial deployment,” a senior official involved in the project told The Hindu .
The project would be launched in three waves starting with pilot followed by mapping the route network for operation of drones for delivering vaccine/medicine in the desired community health centres and PHCs.
The project is being launched following the approval granted by the Civil Aviation Ministry to the request made by the State to grant conditional exemption from the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules 2021 for conducting experimental BVLOS drone flights for delivery of vaccines.
Accordingly, the State had been given permission to conduct the experimental flights for a period of one year.
The project is aimed at assessing alternative logistics route in providing safe, accurate and reliable pick up and delivery of health care items like medicines, COVID-19 vaccines, units of blood and other lifesaving equipment from the distribution centre to specific location and back.
The model, once successful, would enable deliveries from district medical stores and blood banks to PHCs, CHCs and further from PHCs/CHCs to central diagnostic laboratories.
The consortium of companies selected for the implementation of the project has been asked to submit standard operation protocol along with the risk mitigation plans to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation for its approval.
It was decided to constitute teams comprising, among others, health experts and representatives from the regulator as also the Air Traffic Control (ATC) at Shamshabad airport for monitoring the implementation of the project in phases.
“We have to deploy the UTM software to track the flight path on real time basis and coordinate with the ATC for getting the time slots and zones of flight,” the official who wished anonymity said. Officials said the project would generate real and actionable insights for future policies and their integration with the existing healthcare supply chain.
According to IT department Principal Secretary Jayesh Ranjan, the pilot project would be launched in the first or second week of June and would be scaled up later.
The project envisioned ensuring healthcare equity to rural areas. Though it was planned to launch the project by this month-end, officials said it had been deferred by few days keeping in view the difficulties faced by five of the seven-member consortium who are based out of Telangana due to lockdown and other restrictions in place in some States.