Drones take medical samples to the sky in Madagascar

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A drone approaches the Centre ValBio research station(Credit: Stony Brook University)

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Many of the remote villages in the Ifanadiana district of Madagascar aren't linked to the outside world by decent roads. Among other things, this means that it can be very difficult getting medical samples to labs in a timely fashion. That's where a project led by New York-based Stony Brook University comes in. It's been using autonomous drones to get biological samples from those villages to a central testing center, where they can be checked for diseases such as tuberculosis.

The GPS-guided drones were made by project partner Vayu, Inc. They take off and land vertically, like a helicopter, but switch to faster and more efficient fixed-wing flight once they reach altitude.

Starting on July 27th, they began transporting blood and stool samples from the villages to Stony Brook's Centre ValBio research station, located on the edge of Madagascar's Ranomafana National Park. There, the samples could be properly stored and analyzed. A previous study has indicated that blood samples aren't affected by being transported in a drone.

"The flights to and from villages in the Ifanadiana district ushers in a new era in bringing healthcare to people living in really remote settings," said Dr. Peter Small, the Founding Director of Stony Brook's Global Health Institute. "In this context, drones will find innumerable uses such as accelerating the diagnosis of tuberculosis and ensuring the delivery of vaccines."

Supporting the project were the Madagascar government and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The drones can be seen in action, in the video below.

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