An international team of health-care investigators is piloting a new medical-delivery system that uses a "surgical strike" approach to solve pandemic problems.
With funding from Stop TB partnership, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Government of Canada, researchers from University of Western Ontario, Institut Pasteur de Madagascar, Stony Brook University (New York), and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute spent the last two years testing the capacity of drones to pick up patient samples from more than 50 villages for delivery to medical facilities to be tested. The drones not only pick up but also deliver medication back to patients in instances where they have been diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) or other related ailments.
The level of sophistication in the technology and methodology that has been adopted by the research team while staging its tests is quite impressive because of its potential to reach the most infrastructurally underdeveloped areas in Madagascar such as Vatovavy-Fitovinany region. In addition to picking up samples and delivering medication, the team has developed a customized "pill box" which delivers personalized digitally monitored medication thus ensuring that prescriptions are properly adhered to.
Medical Anthropologist, professor Elysée Nouvet, who previously led global health projects in developing countries in Central America and West Africa notes that:
In just a few hours, the drone makes a trip that is logistically and economically extremely difficult for many villagers, especially if they are sick. These are villages that are walk-in only, with no ambulance service. Travelling to the nearest hospital from a remote part of Madagascar can take days, and, if an individual is sick and those accompanying them have no family near the hospital, this trip can incur significant expense."
Nouvet who led the cultural acceptability study of this potentially game-changing TB diagnosis and treatment program believes that the use of drones in digital-health technology, remote monitoring, and disease surveillance is something that must be explored further to determine how best to balance the customs, traditions and any potential concerns of those living in remote areas.
As to whether such technologies can be scaled up and devolved to communities, Nouvet thinks that:
There are many pieces to this puzzle being figured out even as new drone-supported health programs are being introduced around the world. Who knows? Maybe drone-delivered tests and treatments will become a new standard for northern First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities in Canada. The job of the anthropologist in all this is to ensure technological optimism does not cloud questions that need to be asked about the social impact and acceptability of new technologies on those they are designed to supposedly support."
Header Image Credit: A drone used to deliver a ‘surgical strike’ in the Vatovavy-Fitovinany region of Madagascar/University of Western Ontario
Credit: Jeff Renaud/University of Western Ontario