The Drones for Health program explores the use of unmanned aerial systems (UASs) also called drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to support public health systems (e.g. medical commodity distribution, lab sample transport, data collection).

Drones for Health

Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) have significant potential to improve the availability of health products and services at the last mile. VillageReach is working to understand the use of drones for product delivery in low-resource environments, collaborating with stakeholders including governments, donors, NGO partners, UAS manufacturers and local universities and technologists. We have developed costing studies, and provided guidance and program management based on our expertise in strengthening the health system at the last mile.

VillageReach believes that a more robust and coordinated evidence base is required to understand the regulatory requirements, costs and benefits associated with UAS use cases in humanitarian settings. Only then will the potential for the use of UAS at the last mile shift to a reality.

The use of UAVs for transport of public health products and services presents a significant opportunity to increase availability and access in hard-to-reach areas, but the evidence generated from recent pilot projects has not been systematically synthesized and disseminated to inform the expansion of the sector. Stakeholders risk duplicating efforts, inefficient use of limited funding and stagnated progress. VillageReach is supporting the Interagency Supply Chain Group (ISG) UAV Coordinator to catalogue and prioritize promising use cases across UAV donors, implementers, innovators and governments, and develop an evidence base to guide impactful investment in the use of UAVs for public health. VillageReach is developing an evidence generation toolkit to provide the logical framework, indicators and data collection tools to develop this evidence base.

VillagerReach also designs and implements UAS solutions to generate evidence for payload delivery and other potential applications in the public health sector. The team is currently leading the testing of UAS in Malawi, Mozambique and DRC. In addition, VillageReach provides technical assistance around drone project implementation to local partners such as Emprende, Incubadora de Negocios Tecnologico in Dominican Republic.

In Malawi, we are conducting a study on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to transport blood products and uterotonic drugs. The study investigates the quality of the blood and oxytocin samples flown by UAV; the costs and benefits; safety concerns as well as community and stakeholder perceptions related to UAV utilization for transportation of blood and other health commodities; and will result in the development a long-term business case for the integration of UAVs into the medical transport system.  Other activities under the UAS program in Malawi include exploring best use cases, thinking about the system design, and how best to develop long-term solutions. VillageReach is also contributing to the development of a toolkit for UAV implementors and operators in partnership with Civil Aviation of Malawi, UNICEF Malawi, and other local partners. The toolkit, built upon existing knowledge and lessons learned in-country, intents to help accelerate future UAV implementation in Malawi. Specific objectives of our work in Malawi include:

  • Demonstrate repeated safe transport of a 2kg payload between blood distribution centers and hard-to-reach rural health facilities
  • Test blood quality in order to document any safety concerns associated with movement of blood by UAV
  • Test temperature history of packaging during flight for uterotonic drugs.
  • Document costs, time comparison, and benefits of a UAV supported blood transport system and uterotonic drugs for emergency cases as compared to the current blood and uterotonic drugs transport system
  • Assess staff and community knowledge and attitudes towards UAV use.
  • Continue to identify best use cases in country and develop system of integrating into the supply chain system taking into account the following:
    • Finances
    • Operations
    • Policies
    • Capacity building
    • Technology developments
  • Engage stakeholders and develop long-term government, stakeholder, and private sector solutions for UAVs for health
  • Post testing, work with government to move into long term implementation

In Mozambique, with funding from the Frontier Technology Livestreaming and DFID Mozambique, we are conducting the project “Introducing UAS for Tuberculosis Sample Transport in Mozambique”.   We are exploring how unmanned aerial systems (UASs) can impact both the availability of and turnaround time for tuberculosis laboratory services at the last mile. This work represents an opportunity to shape how UAS are used for strengthening laboratory networks and the creation of an enabling environment for introducing a UAS will occur through stakeholder engagement at all levels – from government officials to health facility workers to community members. The Phase 1 of the project aims to create an enabling environment for safe, effective use of UAS in Mozambique, and to generate evidence necessary to define the use cases that maximize the efficacy and impact of this technology and determine the scope of future phases. Specific objectives of our work in Mozambique include:

  • Demonstrate repeated safe transport of sputum samples between health facilities TB testing capabilities and hard-to-reach rural health facilities
  • Test sputum sample quality in order to document any safety concerns associated with movement of sputum sample by UAV
  • Document costs, time comparison, and benefits of a UAV supported TB sample transport system to accelerate TB diagnostic
  • Identify best use cases to use UAVs for TB sample transport and develop system of integrating into the supply chain system
  • Start identify potential business model for sustaining the use of UAVs for laboratory sample transport
  • Assess staff and community knowledge and attitudes towards UAV use.

In DRC, with funding from Gavi, VillageReach, in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the Civil Aviation of DRC, is leading the “Introducing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for Vaccine Transport in the  Democratic Republic of Congo – Phase 1: Permissions, Preliminary Design & Testing” project. In this project, we are exploring how unmanned aerial systems (UASs)  can  impact  the  availability  of  vaccines  at  the  last  mile.  The  Phase  1  of  the  project (12 months)  aims  to  create  an  enabling  environment  for  safe,  effective  use  of  UAS  in  DRC,  and  to  define  the  use  cases  that  maximize  the  efficacy  and  impact  of  this  technology, identify appropriate drone platform and demo its capabilities in country,  and  determine  the  scope  of  future  phases, which include a 12 months routine use of drone for vaccine and essential medicines delivery to the last mile. Specific objectives from our work in DRC include:

  • Put in place governance mechanisms for cross-agency collaboration and coordination in the context of exploring the use of UAVs for transporting health products
  • Map and reinforce the regulatory environment to enable the import and use of UAVs in DRC
  • Identify best use cases to use UAVs for vaccine transport and develop system of integrating into the supply chain system
  • Select and demo an appropriate technology based on the prioritized use case
  • Develop a comprehensive testing and evaluation protocol to test the use UAVs for vaccine transport

July 2019 –
VillageReach collaborated with Frontier Technologies on a webinar in which VillageReach presented on how they have conquered regulatory barriers, in transporting TB samples with UAVs (drones) in Mozambique, by getting regulators, policy-makers and other government stakeholders on the ‘same side of the of the table’.

Learn more about the webinar.

UAV Working Group

A collaborative effort from the beginning, VillageReach and partners developed the UAV for Payload Delivery Working Group (UPDWG) to serve as an informal knowledge and resource-sharing mechanism for those involved in the development, advancement, and application of UAS for public health and supply chain improvement. The group provides a forum for members to share information, coordinate efforts, connect with partners and manufacturers, and access document resources related to UAV for payload delivery. UPDWG membership has grown to more than 230 individuals from dozens of organizations and countries.  Quarterly webinars, highlighting member organizations, showcase current projects, technological developments, modeling studies, or research being done and providing a forum for live discussion.

Become a member of the working group and stay up-to-date by visiting the new UPDWG website.

Visit the website. 


drone landing

VillageReach, UNICEF and Matternet test UAV prototypes for HIV test transport in Malawi


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