Africa’s First Drone Air Corridor
The drone industry is having a big impact all around the world. No government is indifferent to the wide potential of drone usage. In fact, in the last couple of years many countries and companies have begun drone trials to test and develop drone services so they may become beneficial to remote communities and society in general.
At the end of last year, the government of Malawi announced the establishment of Africa’s first drone air corridor. The aim is to establish a controlled and fully operational platform for drones to deliver services to remote communities across Malawi.
The official launch of this drone air corridor is supported by UNICEF-Malawi, according to the director of Malawi’s Department of Civil Aviation — Alfred Mtilatila. This is a pilot project using UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) for transporting dried blood samples for the early diagnosis of HIV in children.
Deadly diseases such as HIV and malaria are among the biggest causes of death in Africa. Efforts to fight these diseases are hampered by the degraded road network connecting hospitals and villages which is the main cause of slow delivery of medical supplies and packages. Often, patients are not able to get their medicine on time, thus resulting in early death.
The current vehicles used to transport vaccines and blood samples in Malawi are motorcycles and ambulances. However, due to high fuel costs and the poor state of the road network, deliveries often take too long. Consequently, hospitals are not able to examine and treat patients efficiently and on time. The government is aware of this issue and has been trying to find a way to deliver vaccines and blood samples with better efficiency. Thanks to the drone industry, UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) are now a viable solution to this problem.
According to Alfred Mtilatila,
We would like to establish a designated area where we will permit different types of unmanned aerial vehicles so that we will be able to come up with the right type of vehicles which can be used for different purposes.
UNICEF-Malawi has already completed its first test flight of the 10km route from a remote community health center to the Kamuzu Central Hospital in the capital Lilongwe. Malawi’s Minister of Transport and Public Works Jappie Mhango who is privy of the sad state of the country’s transportation system states,
Malawi has over the past years faced serious droughts and flooding. … The launch of the UAS testing corridor is particularly important to support transportation and data collection where land transport infrastructure is either not feasible or difficult during emergencies.
To confirm the severity of this problem, UNICEF-Malawi has conducted a study which shows that it currently takes an average of 11 days to transport blood samples from a health center to a test lab and up to 4 weeks for the results to reach the health center. This slow response time is the main reason why a high number of patients are not receiving their treatments on time. The timely delivery of medical packages using drones is thus an important factor in improving healthcare in the country.
Malawi’s drone corridor is expected to run for a maximum distance of 40 kilometers and become fully operational by April 2017.