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African nation launch drone test center to help with humanitarian disasters

Malawi has launched Africa’s first drone-testing center which has been established to explore how drone technology can help developing countries deal with humanitarian disasters or issues in its healthcare system. The project has been created following the collaboration between Malawi and UNICEF who hope the innovative drone technology can help regions cope with humanitarian crisis such as floods, or a breakout of a disease such as Ebola, or with regards to the healthcare sector it can help with the delivery of blood for HIV tests.

UNICEF official Johannes Wedenig said the purpose and vision behind the new center at the launch in Lilongwe was to help children, citing that drone technology has many potential applications.  UNICEF conducted a survey into the healthcare industry in the Malawi and discovered that it can take up to 11 days to get HIV blood samples tested, and up to four weeks to get results delivered back.

Drone technology can cut that time turnaround which is critical as it’s essential to get a child suffering from HIV onto treatment immediately. Figures released from UNICEF indicate that nearly 40,000 children in Malawi are born to HIV-positive mothers every single year. The country suffers a HIV prevalence rate of 10% - which is one of the highest in the world. Drones will be tested at the site for their capacity to collect imagery, boost communication and carry low-weight items such as emergency medical supplies, vaccines and samples. The maximum test altitude will be 500 metres.

Minister of Transport and Public Works Jappie Mhango said: “Malawi has over the past years faced serious droughts and flooding. The launch of the testing corridor is particularly important to support transportation and data collection where land transport infrastructure is either not feasible or difficult during emergencies."

In October, Rwanda inaugurated a drone operation to experiment with supplying medical care to rural parts of Africa.