Minister of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufya has announced that plans are underway to introduce the use of drones to deliver medicines to remote areas in Zambia.
Dr Chilufya said Government through the Medical Stores is exploring ways of introducing drone technology to speed up the delivery of essential medicines and kits to rural areas.
He said in an interview that Medical Stores is already using drones in inventory management but want to explore the use of this technology in managing the distribution chain.
Tanzania and Rwanda are some of the countries in the region that have adopted the use of drone technology in drug supply.
Meanwhile, The National Center for Global Health and Medicine of Japan and other entities are to launch a program using state-of-the-art drones manufactured in Japan to deliver medical supplies to hard-to-access areas of Zambia.
The Tokyo-based center will use drones capable of covering long distances at high speeds in Zambia.
It aims to improve the medical services in the country by flying medical products such as AIDS test kits to areas that are hard to access because of bad road conditions.
This will be the first time Japanese drones will be used overseas for the purpose of medical support.
Test flights are scheduled to be carried out in Zambia in April, and full-fledged operations to start at the end of the year.
The center is to play a leading role in coordinating with the Zambian government, with financial support being provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
Sony Corp. group company Aerosense Inc. conducts surveys and other activities through the use of drones.
The Tokyo-based firm, which will be in charge of the development and operation of the drones, is to transport medical supplies for a fee.
Because of elevated HIV/AIDS infection rates — 13 percent in Zambia — the center started sending medical staff to the country in 2006.
In contrast to urban areas such as Lusaka, it takes several days to send medical supplies to rural villages when roads are submerged during the rainy season.
There are high hopes therefore for the use of drones to provide medical support.
Aerosense’s top-of-the-line drone is 160 centimeters long by 220 centimeters wide, and weighs seven kilograms.
It can take off and land vertically without a runway, carry packages weighing up to 1.5 kilograms and fly at a maximum speed of 130 kph.
The plan calls for drones to be loaded with AIDS test kits and other medical supplies at large base hospitals.
The drones will be preprogrammed with data about their destination, and fly for more than 10 minutes to villages dozens of kilometers away from the hospitals.
Trained local staff at the destinations are to receive the packages, and the drones will transport blood and other samples from patients back to the base hospitals.
The test flights will be conducted in Southern Province.
The drones can currently fly for about 10 minutes, but Aerosense plans to improve the battery to extend that time to about one hour by the start of full-fledged operations.
Drones that can fly more than one hour are regarded as weapons and are subject to export restrictions under the Wassenaar Arrangement, a global framework to control arms exports.
Though Zambia is relatively safe, the center plans to maintain close supervision of drones so they are not sold to terrorists.
The global market for drones is rapidly growing.
One Chinese company is said to account for 70 percent of total global production of consumer drones in recent years, followed by Japanese companies.
As there are almost no legal restrictions on drones in African nations, European and Chinese companies are also looking for a chance to enter the African market.
“We’re developing a kit with a Japanese company that can be used to easily conduct an examination even in a village with no electricity or running water,” a center official said. “We want to improve medical support by using Japanese technology, including drones.”
A global framework on export controls for off-the-shelf commercial products that are linked to conventional arms.