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International Partnerships

Innovation in the skies: bridging gaps and breaching barriers in Malawi

Drones and Data Aid team with children in Malawi, inspiring the next generation to reach for the skies.
Drones and Data Aid team with children in Malawi, inspiring the next generation to reach for the skies © Wingcopter

In emergency scenarios, every single second matters. The COVID-19 pandemic reminded the world of the crucial role of safe, cost- and time efficient supply chains. Making medicines and COVID vaccines available to all is a top priority.

The European Union, through the ‘Drones and Data Aid’ project, works to make that a reality across Malawi.

Drone technology bridges a gap and allows medicines and temperature-sensitive COVID vaccines to be delivered in an effective manner from central pharmacies to remote health centres.

Current infrastructure and climate-related challenges slow down medical supply chains in Malawi. With only 28% of roads paved, persistent flooding, and the pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic, ‘Drones and Data Aid’ alleviates and bridges the last mile health access gap.

Andi Fisanich, head of Wingcopter’s humanitarian program, expands on the benefits of drones and says, “We literally show up with three bags of cement and the health facility builds a small platform for the drones to land on - and that’s it. It’s very low cost”. Its low price makes the project affordable to countries like Malawi, which cannot afford to pay for more costly infrastructure.

The ‘Drones and Data Aid’ project is not only reaching for the sky, it is also inspiring and training youth across Malawi to become drone experts. Selected students receive full scholarships to attend the African Drone and Data Academy (ADDA) where they get trained on remote piloting, drone design and engineering, as well as drone data analysis.

Drones and Data Aid launching a drone with health supplies.
Drones and Data Aid launching a drone with health supplies © Wingcopter

In a collaboration between local and international universities, ADDA offers curriculum building and strengthening of local skills to ensure the sustainability of the project. So far, ADDA has trained 257 people and continues its capacity building strategy. Their goal is to run a two-year Master’s programme in drone technology by 2022 in conjunction with the Malawi University of Science and Technology.

Since its implementation by the #SmartDevelopmentFund, drones have successfully completed over 150 deliveries to Malawian health centres carrying over 200 kilos of medicine. They have transported products such as malaria and lung disease treatments as well as reproductive health medicines and medical equipment.

The project has changed paradigms. Long turnaround times are no longer the rule and shorter ones are now becoming a reality.

The Drones and Data Aid team.
The Drones and Data Aid team © Wingcopter

By including drones in health supply chains, ‘Drones and Data Aid’ makes life-saving medicines available to remote areas in only a few hours compared to the typical two to three weeks waiting time.

In the Spring of 2020, ‘Drones and Data Aid’ became one of the nine winners of the #SmartDevelopmentHack launched by the European Commission and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. This global competition aimed at developing innovative digital solutions to counter COVID-19 challenges in an interconnected world.

UNICEF alongside Wingcopter successfully pitched their use of drones, which revolutionises access to medicines in faraway and hard to reach rural areas. This initiative takes sustainable development into 21st century smart technology and makes it available to those in most need.

Implementing organisations

GIZ, UNICEF, Wingcopter