The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has partnered with the Government of Malawi to establish an air corridor to test the potential humanitarian use of drones. The agency has been trialing how drones can be used to speed-up HIV diagnosis in the African country. It believes that, by using the unmanned aerial vehicles, it will be possible to significantly cut down waiting times for test results.
The corridor will become fully operational in April 2017. It will run for a maximum distance of 40km, and will be used to test drones from existing manufacturers, universities and other partners. The organization says it is working with a number of governments and private sector partners to explore how UAS can be used in low income countries.
In a press release on the UN News Centre website, UNICEF listed the three main areas that they will be testing:
- Imagery – generating and analyzing aerial images for development and during humanitarian crises, including for situation monitoring in floods and earthquakes
- Connectivity – exploring the possibility for UAS to extend Wi-Fi or cellphone signals across difficult terrain, particularly in emergency settings
- Transport – delivery of small low weight supplies such as emergency medical supplies, vaccines and samples for laboratory diagnosis, including for HIV testing.
The launch of the corridor follows a pilot programme in March 2016, which tested the feasibility of using UAS for the transportation of dried blood samples for early infant diagnosis of HIV. The drones successfully carried up to 250 1kg samples.
"We were able to demonstrate all the systems could be put into place to operate UAVs in this specific geographic area," Judith Sherman, Unicef's HIV and drone lead in Malawi told WIRED.
“Malawi has over the past years faced serious droughts and flooding,” Malawi’s Minister of Transport and Public Works, Jappie Mhango said. “The launch of the UAS testing corridor is particularly important to support transportation and data collection where land transport infrastructure is either not feasible or difficult during emergencies.”
UNICEF work in more than 190 countries and territories to reach the most vulnerable and excluded children. We recently partnered with the agency to supply vaccines to over 40,000 children in 2017. Please visit our charity page for more information on this and other initiatives we’ve been working on.
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