wingcopter (USAID)

2018 Government Innovation Awards

USAID is making medical deliveries via drone a reality

The last leg of the supply chain is often the trickiest, especially in rural areas where infrastructure is not as mature and bad weather can leave areas inaccessible by ground vehicles. Drones can help solve that logistics issue, and the U.S. Agency for International Development is working with multiple countries to put the technology to use.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for Health Care Delivery

U.S. Agency for International Development

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The agency is using a Wingcopter 178 Heavy Lift to deliver medical specimens to labs across sub-Saharan Africa. The drone, which can carry about 13 pounds, also flies medical supplies to a district hospital in Tanzania.

Delivering medical samples helps ensure that important tests are performed and analyzed in a timely manner, but some locations don’t have the infrastructure to send or receive the results electronically, so the same drone can be used to deliver hard-copy results to isolated medical centers. It might also prove useful for delivering supplies, such as anti-venom, that are expensive and often not kept on site, but are needed quickly when required.

The use of drones for imaging and mapping is common, but the use case for cargo is not as well defined, said Scott Dubin, team lead for warehousing and distribution at Chemonics International. The company is working with USAID on the Global Health Supply Chain Program. Because of that newness, USAID has faced significant hurdles in countries that might never have had to approve anything like this before. “Getting anything done, even getting some paperwork signed in a country, can be difficult,” Dubin said. “Doing something that’s not usually done requires a lot of collaboration.”

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