Malawi: The Government of Malawi and UNICEF have started testing the use of UAVs to explore cost-effective ways of reducing waiting times for HIV testing of infants. The test, which is using simulated samples, will have the potential to cut waiting times dramatically, and if successful, will be integrated into the health system alongside others mechanisms such as road transport and SMS.
The first successful test flight completed the 10km route unhindered travelling from a community health centre to the Kamuzu Central Hospital laboratory. Residents watched as the vehicle took off and flew away in the direction of the hospital. The test flights which are assessing viability including cost and safety, will continue until Friday 18th March.
UAVs have been used in the past for surveillance and assessments of disaster, but this is the first known use of UAVs on the continent for improvement of HIV services.
“HIV is still a barrier to development in Malawi, and every year around 10,000 children die of HIV,” says Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF Representative in Malawi. “This innovation could be the breakthrough in overcoming transport challenges and associated delays experienced by health workers in remote areas of Malawi.”
“Malawi has pioneered a number of innovations in the delivery of HIV services including the Option B+ policy which puts mothers on a simple, lifelong treatment regime. We have also pioneered the delivery of results from the central laboratory to the health facilities through text messages. We believe our partnering with UNICEF to test UAVs is another innovation and will help in our drive to achieve the country’s goals in HIV prevention and treatment.”