Covid: Drone-based sample collection undergoes trial

Wednesday August 25 2021
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A health worker adjusts an oxygen cylinder in the Covid-19 treatment Unit at Soroti Regional Referral Hospital early this year. Public health officials in Adjumani District are pushing forward with plans for a trial run of an idea in which Covid-19 samples are collected for analysis and dispatched using drones. PHOTO/file

By Marko Taibot

Public health officials in Adjumani District are pushing forward with plans for a trial run of an idea in which Covid-19 samples are collected for analysis and dispatched using drones.

The pilot project dubbed ‘The West Nile Medical Drone Project’ is being run under the auspices of Makerere University’s Infectious Disease Institute (IDI).

It aims to use technology to overcome geographical and proximity challenges.

“Besides that it will also aid in providing automated medical information and follow up of data, specifically of Covid-19 patients,” IDI’s regional coordinator Gerald Aluma said, adding: “For example, the drones will fly from Yumbe District to Adjumani in seven minutes while from Moyo to Adjumani which takes approximately 45 kilometres by road, it will fly in only five minutes.”

Mr Aluma insists that the project should not be seen as a disruptor since it complements the current sample collection and transportation system.

Adjumani has received five drones for the pilot project, and already the district health officer, Dr Dominic Drametu, is hailing the project as a game changer.

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Road trips from Adjumani to Gulu City to deliver or collect samples will now soon become a thing of the past.

“Because drones are fast and flexible, it will suit our work in hard-to-reach places and will go a long way in delivery of drugs and Covid-19, samples. This is also cost-effective and time saving,” Dr Drametu said.

The West Nile Medical Drone Project is funded by the United Nations Capital Development Fund.

The coordinates of the route chart have already been picked and flight testing began on Monday.

Adjumani District officials have urged IDI to come up with a sustainability plan that will sustain the project beyond the pilot timeframe.

“Many partners have come up with projects, but after the project period it becomes hard for the district to continue with the project so do the sustainability plan and avail it to the district,” Mr Ben Anyama, the Adjumani District chairman, said.

Moyo District leaders have also welcomed and embraced the usage of drone technology.

The district’s chief administrative officer, Mr Patrick Olila, said it will reduce the transportation and maintenance cost of the health sector in the region.

Mr Williams Anyama, the Moyo District chairperson, however, said there must be clear guidelines to understand the operations, roles, and responsibilities of every stakeholder during the implementation of the medical drone project in order to achieve its intended purposes.

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