In continuance with the national mission of expanding drone ecosystem in India, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Union Health Ministry successfully conducted a trial run of blood bag delivery by drones under its i-Drone initiative, here today.
The trial drone run as part of a path breaking validation study has been undertaken for the first time in the country by the collaborative efforts of ICMR, Lady Hardinge Medical College (LHMC), New Delhi, Government Institute of Medical Sciences (GIMS), Greater Noida and Jaypee Institute of Information Technology (JIIT), Noida. The inaugural trial flight carried 10 units of whole blood samples from GIMS and LHMC in visual line of sight.
LHMC and GIMS are included as centres for supplying blood bags and testing of the samples, while JIIT is acting as the implementation centre for drone sorties. The protocol development, study designing, implementation, and coordination of the project are being undertaken by scientists from ICMR-Headquarters.
ICMR has been a pioneer in using drones for healthcare purposes and successfully conducted the delivery of medical supplies, vaccines, and medicines in remote areas of Manipur and Nagaland. The drone-based delivery of blood will reduce the time for last-mile deliveries within the country.
Highlighting the significance of the event, Dr Rajiv Bahl, Director General, ICMR emphasised that “this ‘i-DRONE’ was first used during Covid-19 pandemic by ICMR for distributing vaccines to unreachable areas. Today, we are transporting blood and blood-related products, which are supposed to be kept at a low temperature. After the experiment, we found that not only can we maintain the temperature, but there was also no damage to the products transported. We sent another sample through an ambulance & if there are no differences in the samples sent using the two modes, then this drone will be used all over India.”
He further stated that “clarity on challenge mapping and identifying the possible solutions can be achieved by developing indigenous capacities in research, and introduction of innovations and technologies in the mainstream. With digitisation, efficient manufacturing of vaccines and development a rapid delivery mechanism, India achieved 90% coverage within a year.”
During the course of this validation exercise, scientists identified the challenges in timely delivery of blood and blood products especially in the remote areas and congested metropolitan cities of India and assessed the quality and integrity of fragile bodily fluids such as blood due to the impact of drone’s movement.
The investigators from LHMC, GIMS and JIIT will further conduct drone flights for validating the quality of packed red blood cells, fresh frozen plasma, platelets in this study. The findings of this study will provide scientific evidence from India for examining the impact of drone transportation on blood products. This study will lead to development of SOPs for wider applicability and use of drones for delivery of blood bags and the components. Additionally, it will provide answers to whether drones shall be used as a method of transportation for temperature sensitive blood products in remote locations of the country.