India tests drone shipments for COVID-19 vaccines in remote Jammu

As the world seeks to vaccinate billions more people against COVID-19 as the new omicron variant of the virus spreads, India is testing the use of drones to deliver vaccines to people in mountainous Jammu and Kashmir, where more than 70% of the population live in rural areas.

It usually takes a few hours to deliver vaccines from one of the region’s main medical centers in Jammu to a hospital in Marh, a nearby mountain village. Last month officials said the Octacopter drone took only 20 minutes to deliver.

Doctors say vaccination campaigns have long been challenged by the mountains and weather in the area, which may thwart efforts to reach people in remote areas.

The director of the Jammu health service, Dr. Renu Sharma told VOA that last month, using 200 doses, the study raised hopes that drones could be a useful delivery option.

“If the project is given [approved] it will be very helpful for remote areas, especially in Jammu Division given the difficult terrain, ”Sharma said.

Other parts of Cashmere remain temporarily inaccessible to vehicles, making drones a better option.

“Areas like Sikardar, Safaid Aab and Marno are particularly challenging in winter. It takes six to eight hours on foot from Dawar to reach these areas, ”Bashir Ahmad Peroo, a health worker from the Gurez region, told VOA.

A spokesman for the Kashmiri Directorate of Health Services, Dr. Mir Mushtaq told VOA that doctors now often have enough medicines on hand during the summer to care for the local population throughout the winter. Drones could help support supplies in the cold months.

Its creators say that the octacopter can carry a payload of 10 kilograms with a range of 20 kilometers and a top speed of 36 km / h.

India’s CSIR-National Aerospace Laboratories developed the octocopter drones, and the country’s Minister of State for Science and Technology, Dr. Jitendra Singh, hopes they can deliver more than just COVID-19 vaccines, including medical supplies, equipment and critical packages to remote communities.

Indian health statistics show that more than 4,400 people have died from coronavirus in Jammu and Kashmir, and doctors say the number of new positive tests has increased every day since the end of last month, making the vaccination campaign increasingly important.