SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016

First unmanned aerial vehicle to diagnose HIV in infants tested in Malawi

The Government of Malawi and UNICEF recently ran the initial test for the first Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs, commonly called drones) that may be used to decrease the waiting times to test infants for HIV infections.

This test and UAV approach may be the next steps in finding cost efficient ways to detect HIV infections in infants. If successful, the drones can reduce waiting times for the infants, helping them receive treatments faster.

“HIV is still a barrier to development in Malawi, and every year around 10,000 children die of HIV,” Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF Representative in Malawi, said. “This innovation could be the breakthrough in overcoming transport challenges and associated delays experienced by health workers in remote areas of Malawi.”

If the researchers can prove that drones are an effective approach, then they will be integrated into Malawi’s health system, along with similar mechanisms, like SMS and road transport.

This test flight finished the 10 km route that reaches from a local community health center to the laboratory at the Kamuzu Central Hospital. This was the first successful flight.

“In 2014, nearly 40,000 children in Malawi were born to HIV positive mothers,” Mdoe said. “Quality care of these children depends on early diagnosis, which requires taking dried blood samples from the health center to the central laboratory for testing. We hope that UAVs can be part of the solution to reduce transportation time and ensure that children who need it, start their treatment early.”

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