On the 75th anniversary of Indian Independence, Bengaluru-based startup Redwing Labs has launched an experimental trial using drones to deliver superior healthcare services to rural and tribal communities in the town of Seppa, Arunachal Pradesh.

Additionally, the start-up that designs and operates last-mile aerial healthcare logistics, would provide hybrid Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) drones that are ‘Made in India’ and manage the project’s end-to-end operations.

A limited experimental drone network is being put up to test out aerial healthcare delivery in the state. Besides, the network would enable diagnostics and emergency treatments in local health centres.

The SAMRIDH Healthcare Blended Financing Facility, an initiative backed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and operated by IPE Global, has provided financial and technical support for the East Kameng pilot project.

The initiative is a result of the state’s partnership with the World Economic Forum’s ‘Medicines From the Sky’ (MFTS) initiative.

To improve healthcare access to remote areas, several stakeholders joined hands in pioneering this initiative such as the Government of Arunachal Pradesh; World Economic Forum’s ‘Medicines From the Sky’ (MFTS) initiative; Redwing Labs with funding support from SAMRIDH Healthcare Blended Financing Facility–an initiative supported by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by IPE Global.

In 2021, India began testing drone-based medical delivery services. Till then, numerous states have conducted pilots and experimental flights, including Telangana, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Odisha, and Uttarakhand.

Furthermore, Drones carry a range of medical supplies, including vaccines, essential drugs, and diagnostic samples. Besides, aerial supply chains offer enormous potential to address last-mile healthcare challenges and advance SDG-3 in rural, tribal, and semi-urban locations.

Sharing his views on the collaboration with Redwing Labs, Himanshu Sikka, Project Director, SAMRIDH and Chief Strategy and Diversification Officer, IPE Global, said, “SAMRIDH is committed to enabling scaling-up of innovative healthcare solutions by improving their access to affordable capital and technical assistance. Our collaboration with Redwing Labs gives us a tremendous opportunity to address supply-chain shortcomings in the healthcare sector to address access and affordability of quality healthcare for vulnerable populations. We will also provide impact evaluation assistance that could be useful to develop the drone policy for future drone-based healthcare delivery projects.”

Further highlighting the impact of this initiative, Pravimal Abhishek, IAS, Deputy Commissioner, East Kameng District, said, “East Kameng District has a very hilly terrain which makes it difficult to access interior areas, particularly during monsoons. I am sure drone-based drug delivery will be a game changer in strengthening access to healthcare in such remote areas. Hoping that this pilot would give us the answers and clarity for the future.”

The drone network seeks to decrease patient out-of-pocket expenses (OOPE), boost immunisation rates, and enhance welfare gains by enabling care at the local level. To comprehend the cost-benefit and health impacts of employing drones in India’s public health system, this experimental network would be accompanied by an impact evaluation study, the Deputy Commissioner added.

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