In line with Government of India’s ambitious goal to end Tuberculosis (TB) by the year 2025, Anamaya, the Tribal Health Collaborative an initiative of Piramal Foundation, piloted automated drones for faster transportation of sputum samples for screening and diagnosis in hard-to-reach areas of Kalahandi district, Odisha. The pilot implemented in March 2022 in collaboration with Redwing Labs, saw a significant time reduction to cover the distance to the diagnostic centre. Anamaya worked closely with the district collector, chief district medical officer, civil surgeon, frontline workers and the staff of the National Tuberculosis Elimination Programme (NTEP) to ensure seamless operations.
Early detection of TB is a critical step in addressing its prevention and treatment. This posed a big challenge in Kalahandi given that one-third of the district is covered with dense forests and uneven hilly terrains. The drone pilot was implemented in three blocks – Kesinga, Narla, and Bhawanipatna in the district to explore ways of accelerating the pace of transportation to enable early diagnosis. The Anamaya team looked after the end-to-end project management and coordinated with the local administration to arrange necessary permits and support. They also worked closely with the frontline workers to ensure timely sample collection at the source location.
With the deployment of drones, a distance of 36 kilometres of remote, hilly, uneven and forest-covered terrain which usually takes 55 minutes by road, was covered in around 20 minutes. Redwing team customised the drones to suit the specific needs of this pilot and ensured operational efficiency of the drones. The drone used had a capacity to transfer 2-3 kilograms of weight. 34 samples, in total, were collected from two villages during one flight each.
Aditya Natraj, CEO, of Piramal Foundation said, “India records the highest number of TB cases every year and concomitant deaths. Despite being one of the oldest diseases, we have not advanced in our fight against TB. TB diagnosis is very critical to fast-track treatment and collection of sputum samples is a crucial step. It is important that the sputum is transported safely to the diagnostic centre with improved speed.”
“Through the drone pilot our aim was to reduce the time to transport the sputum sample in a proper non-contaminated shape to the diagnostic centre” he added.
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