Mumbai: Drones to deliver emergency medical supplies

Mumbai: In a first, the Maharashtra government has joined hands with private drone operator Zipline to deliver blood products and emergency medicines to people in remote areas in collaboration with Serum Institute of India (SII), an official said on Monday.

Scheduled for an early 2020 launch, the Maharashtra Medical Drone Delivery Service (MMDDS) will be available 24x7, on-demand, and would include emergency deliveries of blood products, vaccines and life-saving medication.

For this, Zipline will set up 10 distribution centres -- starting with Pune and Nandurbar -- for launching MMDDS in phases across the state and the ultimate goal is to cover all the 12 crore people by making life-saving medicines available within minutes.

The first two distribution centres will be financed through a grant by the SII, and the other centres will be set up by the government and other private or philanthropic partners.

The drones will take off and land at Zipline’s distribution centres without requiring any additional infrastructure or manpower at the clinics they would serve.

Each drone can fly autonomously carrying up to 1.8 kgs cargo at 110 kph with a round-trip range of 160 km (80 km both ways) braving even adverse weather conditions, explained an official.

Each distribution centre would cater to a delivery area of over 20,000 sq km and effectively serve around 20 million people. The deliveries will be made from the sky, with the drone descending to a safe height and dropping a parachute with its medical cargo at a designated spot.

“This new emergency drone delivery service is a great solution to deliver vaccines, blood and other lifesaving products instantly when time is of critical essence.

Though the state has one of the best healthcare systems in India, we have a lot more to do to create a universal access to critical healthcare for all,” said CM Devendra Fadnavis at the launch event in Mumbai.

Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo said millions across the world die each year because they can’t get medicines on time, which the instant drone delivery system can now handle.

“With the partnership with Maharashtra government and SII, we will ensure that millions can have on-demand, instant access to any kind of medical requirements to live and stay healthy,” said Rinaudo.

SII Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla said with the company’s commitment to ensuring full immunisation cover for citizens, the new service will help create a deeper impact bringing the SII’s vision to reality.

The MMDDS centres will store key stocks of blood products, vaccines and lifesaving medications at the distribution centres for ‘just-in-time delivery’ for which health workers can place order messages by call or SMS and get the delivery in around 30 minutes.

Launched in October 2016 in Ghana to supply blood to 21 Rwanda hospitals, Zipline’s drones have made thousands of on-demand and emergency medical deliveries and are now expanding facilities to serve a population of 12 million there.

Based in California, the company plans to expand its network to developed and developing countries, including Africa, South Asia, South-East Asia, the US and other countries in the Americas.

Zipline is supported by teams from SpaceX, Tesla, Google, Boeing, and has investors like Baillie Gifford, Goldman Sachs, Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horo­witz, GV and The Rise Fund.

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