Odisha, 23 June 2023: An experimental trial to utilize drones to provide superior healthcare services to tribal and rural communities in the Kandhamal district of Odisha was launched. Redwing, a leading startup, would provide ‘Made in India’ electric hybrid Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) drones and run end-to-end operations for this pilot project. This project in the Kandhamal district is made possible by the generous financial and technical support from United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s healthcare blended financing facility – SAMRIDH, implemented by IPE Global.
The drone network is being setup up on an experimental basis to pilot aerial healthcare deliveries in the state. The network would enable diagnostics, vaccine, and medicine deliveries in the primary and community health centers in the remote blocks of the district. Kandhamal is the first district in Odisha and the first aspirational district in the country to have an integrated healthcare drone network.
This pioneering initiative is the outcome of multiple stakeholders collaborating to improve healthcare access to communities in remote areas. This includes the District Administration of Kandhamal, Redwing with funding support from SAMRIDH Healthcare Blended Financing Facility, and B-Medical Systems India as a cold chain partner. By delivering medical supplies faster than road-based logistics, the drone network would serve the population of Kandhamal by offering a better quality of care in the interior blocks.
India started trials and pilots of drone-based deliveries in healthcare in 2021. Since then, multiple states have done pilots and experimental flights. Redwing launched India’s and South-Asia’s first healthcare drone network in Arunachal Pradesh in August 2022. Aerial supply chains have immense potential to solve last-mile healthcare challenges and advance SDG-3 in rural, tribal, and semi-urban locations irrespective of the terrain and geography.
Highlighting the impact of this initiative, Mr. Ashish Ishwar Patil, IAS, District Collector, Kandhamal District, said, “Kandhamal has many hard to reach areas in blocks like Tumudibandha and Kotagarh. These interior regions have power, access and infrastructure challenges. I am sure the drone-based medical delivery will be a game changer in strengthening healthcare in such areas. Patients will now have access to the best of diagnostics and on-demand medical care. We are committed to providing the best quality healthcare to the people of Kandhamal.”
Speaking about the collaboration with Redwing, Mr. Himanshu Sikka, Project Director, SAMRIDH and Chief Strategy and Diversification Officer, IPE Global, said, “SAMRIDH is committed to enable the scaling-up of innovative solutions to strengthen health systems with a particular focus on improving healthcare accessibility and affordability for vulnerable populations. Our collaboration with Redwing Labs gives us an opportunity to address supply-chain shortcomings in the sector. The ambitious project taking place in Kandhamal is poised to have a profound and far-reaching impact on healthcare in this hard-to-reach region. We really appreciate the invaluable support being provided by the government which will be critical for ensuring the success of this endeavor.”
The SAMRIDH initiative was established during the COVID-19 pandemic to support healthcare enterprises and innovators across India implementing market-based health solutions. It provides grants and facilitates debt financing to healthcare initiatives to support scale-up of high impact health solutions that can improve access to quality healthcare for vulnerable communities.
By enabling care at the local level, the drone network aims to reduce out-of-pocket expenditure (OOPE) for patients, support doctors and medical staff in health facilities and boost universal health coverage in line with the Government of Odisha’s focus on providing health protection to economically vulnerable communities. This experimental network would be accompanied by an impact study to understand the health impact of using drones in India’s public health system.
Highlighting the technical aspects of this project, Mr. Anshul Sharma, CEO, and Co-Founder, Redwing, said, “We are hopeful that this experimental pilot will benefit the rural populations in Kandhamal district. The pilot will also kickstart mass adoption of drones in the public healthcare system. Electric drones are the fastest and cleanest form of transportation, even cleaner than ground based electric vehicles. We are pleased and grateful to the Kandhamal district administration, USAID, SAMRIDH, and B-Medical Systems for their active collaboration in this project.”
Highlighting the crucial importance of the cold chain in this program, Mr. Jesal Doshi, CEO, B Medical Systems India emphasized, “This project is a remarkable initiative, representing a dawn of a new era of technological advancements in Public Healthcare in India. The Innovative drone technology helps transcend geographical barriers and helps in unlocking healthcare access in remote areas but also bridges gaps, ensuring that no one is left behind. The cold chain serves as the lifeline for this initiative and our role as the official cold chain partner underscores our unwavering commitment to ensure the safe and efficient transportation of vaccines and samples while preserving their integrity and effectiveness as life-saving resources, even in the most challenging environments. Through this program, we are not only transforming healthcare delivery but also paving the way for broader, impactful interventions that will contribute to a healthier India”.
This pilot goes beyond just technical feasibility and focuses on multiple aspects, including integration with existing health systems, community involvement, local technology training and employment, and impact on health and economic outcomes. A notable collaboration in the project has been the engagement with ITI-Phulbani where students were selected for the pilot project and are being trained by Redwing in Kandhamal and Bangalore in drone manufacturing and operations.
Rural and semi-urban locations face challenges in obtaining good quality healthcare. As COVID-19 has shown, efficient last-mile supply chains are critical for faster access to vaccines, diagnostics, and medical products during health emergencies. India is also subject to frequent adverse weather events. When health supply chains are disrupted and ineffective, populations are unable to receive the medical care they need. In this regard, drone-based health supply chains have demonstrated success in solving last-mile delivery challenges in healthcare systems worldwide for over seven years.