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Drones are delivering vaccines to rural communities in India

Villagers in remote corners of rural India could start seeing curious flying objects in the skies as health experts test out drones to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to isolated communities amid a deadly surge in coronavirus cases.

The southern state of Telangana, which is part of the World Economic Forum's (WEF) Medicine from the Sky project along with government think-tank NITI Aayog and Apollo Hospitals, will run a trial and then launch COVID-19 vaccine deliveries with drones.

Karnataka, another southern state, is also looking at drone deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines, while the Indian Council of Medical Research has been granted permission to do a broader study on the issue.

"These permissions (are) intended to achieve the dual objectives of faster vaccine delivery and improved healthcare access by ensuring primary healthcare delivery at the citizen's doorstep," the civil aviation ministry said.

The ministry regulates the use of drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), because they are seen as a national security issue.

Across the world, drones have been delivering medical goods for several years now, with charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) testing them during a tuberculosis outbreak in Papua New Guinea in 2014, and to help tackle Ebola in Liberia.

Rwanda used Zipline drones to deliver blood to rural clinics, with the vehicles now carrying about 35% of the blood transfusion supply outside the capital.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Zipline drones have also been dropping off AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccines in Ghana, and will soon start delivering them in Rwanda and the United States, with Nigeria also planned for later this year.

Gavi, the global vaccine alliance, has tied up with California-based Zipline and the UPS Foundation to deliver vaccines in areas "without the infrastructure for conventional delivery", said Moz Siddiqui, head of Gavi's private sector partnerships and innovation.

"With every dose of the COVID-19 vaccine being so important, it is critical to ensure that countries have the support and tools to deliver vaccines effectively and efficiently to those who need them," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Drones enable us to supplement more traditional delivery systems. They are a great, unique solution to a problem faced by multiple countries."


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