Indian Council of Medical Research sets rules for using drones in healthcare

The guide that adheres to the new Drone Rules 2021 will help avoid confusion as the usage of drones is new in the healthcare system.

Published: 02nd June 2022 08:51 PM  |   Last Updated: 02nd June 2022 08:51 PM   |  A+A-

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Express News Service

NEW DELHI: Buoyed by the success of a pilot project using drones to deliver Covid-19 vaccines and medical supplies to the far-flung areas of Manipur and Nagaland, bordering Myanmar, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has come out with detailed guidelines on using the aerial route in healthcare.

The guide that adheres to the new Drone Rules 2021 will help avoid confusion as the usage of drones is new in the healthcare system. 

According to the document, drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are limited to transporting vaccines, serums, and temperature-sensitive medical supplies requiring preservation within 2 °C - 8°C and other non-temperature sensitive supplies like tablets, syrups and surgical materials.

Also included in the list are blood bags and diagnostic biological samples, including tissues, urine, blood, pus, sputum, saliva or frozen specimens.

According to Dr Samiran Panda, principal investigator (i-Drone project) and also head of the epidemiology and infectious diseases ICMR, the document will help not only the states but also private agencies and NGOs in utilising air space for delivering medical supplies in far-flung areas.

“One has to move quickly to deliver medical supplies to far-off areas or emergencies. But you cannot have a drone and fly it. You need to have preparedness and training and need necessary clearances. So ICMR, based on its initial pilot project with IIT-Kanpur and its field experience, developed this document,” he told this newspaper.

He said the document provides step-by-step guidance on obtaining regulatory approvals from authorities for using various kinds of drones and utilising air space for delivering medical supplies. 

Drones have earlier been used for spraying fertilisers, security surveillance and geo-mapping. But during pandemics, they were used for rapid, safe delivery of Covid-19 vaccines and medical supplies in hard-to-reach terrains.

Drones in healthcare have immense potential as they can provide the last mile logistics solution for transporting medical supplies in far-off areas, the document said.

It also lists requirements for the drone operators for obtaining regulatory approvals, selecting suitable specifications of drones and their accessories for conducting specialised delivery operations, identifying and training human resources, and handling unforeseen events during operations.

Details are also given on selecting suitable drones for medical supply and criteria for choosing take-off and landing points for the drones.

These drones can also repeatedly and accurately reach out with medical supplies faster than other methods of delivery, which also does not put risks to personnel or manned airframes.

The idea behind the document was also that despite growing interest, there was inadequate information about the practicality, acceptability, operational challenges and impact on physical characteristics for standard delivery of medical supplies, it said.

According to the document, all UAVs must register on the DigitalSky Platform and obtain a unique identification number before they start flying activities.

To prepare the guidelines, ICMR held discussions with the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA), Health Ministry, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), Airport Authority of India (AAI), and Air Traffic Controller, Indian Army and Indian Air Force.


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