Bengaluru-based startup Redwing Aerospace Laboratories has launched a pilot project to use drones to supply medicines and other healthcare services to tribal and rural communities in Seppa, a town in East Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh.

The 'Made in India' hybrid vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) drones developed by Redwing Labs will deliver medical supplies up to eight times faster than road-based logistics, the company says.

While Redwing Labs will run end-to-end operations for the project, the financial and technical support will come from Samridh Healthcare Blended Financing Facility, an initiative supported by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by IPE Global. The healthcare drone pilots in Arunachal Pradesh are an outcome of the State's partnership with the World Economic Forum (WEF)'s 'Medicines From the Sky' (MFTS) initiative.

"We are hopeful that this trial will give quantifiable data points on cost and supply chain behavior for drones in public healthcare to kick start mass adoption. We are pleased and deeply grateful to USAID-Supported SAMRIDH initiative and WEF for their support in this project," Anshul Sharma, CEO and co-founder of Redwing Labs, says.

By enabling care at the local level, the drone network aims to reduce out-of-pocket expenditure (OOPE) for patients, increase immunisation rates and improve welfare gains. This experimental network would be accompanied by an impact evaluation study to understand the cost-benefit and health impact of using drones in India's public health system. 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.

"SAMRIDH is committed to enable 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 the vulnerable populations. We will also be providing impact evaluation assistance that could be useful to develop the drone policy for future drone-based healthcare delivery projects," says Himanshu Sikka, project director, Samridh and chief strategy and diversification officer, IPE Global.

Ever since the central government announced its liberalised drone policy, pilots to use drones for healthcare deliveries had started in several states including Telangana, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Odisha and Uttarakhand. Arunachal Pradesh now joins the growing list of states that want to use drones to deliver multiple health products including vaccines, essential drugs and diagnostic samples. Aerial supply chains are expected to have immense potential to solve last-mile healthcare challenges in rural, tribal, and semi-urban locations.

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