Press Release

Leveraging Drone Technology in the COVID-19 Rapid Response in Rural Areas of Uganda

  • November 02, 2021

  • Kampala, Uganda

The Infectious Diseases Institute at Makerere University, with funding and technical assistance from the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), officially launches a project to pilot the use of medical drone technology in the West Nile districts of Moyo and Adjumani. This project will support surveillance mechanisms, early reporting of any health threats or outbreak indicators within the systems, including rapid response to COVID-19.

Drone technology has the potential to solve several challenges that make the delivery of health care services particularly difficult in the West Nile. With geographical barriers like difficult terrains and very remote areas, drones can solve a piece of the logistical puzzle. They can transport test samples within drastically reduced timelines, kickstarting timely treatments. The project will be using two different drone types; a multi-rotor for short distances, up to 30km, and a fixed-wing drone for longer distances; over 30km.

This research project will assess the efficiency and effectiveness of drone deliveries as a viable solution for Uganda’s health sector. This is done in close collaboration with the health service teams on the ground, to ensure that the drones actually solve part of the puzzle, contributing to the sustainability of this solution.

The support from UNCDF provides the much-needed push to advance technological innovations in the healthcare system, focusing at the local level. The project is part of UNCDF strategy of ‘Leaving No One Behind in the Digital Era’ funded by SIDA, Sweden's government agency for development cooperation.

“The use of drone technology to improve access to health care complements our existing work in the health sector around improving the community health service delivery, and stock and supply chain management of essential drugs and medical supplies at the last mile. This also complements the work done by UNCDF under the Development Initiative for Northern Uganda Programme to improve the road infrastructure in Northern Uganda and West Nile” said Chris Lukolyo, UNCDF Digital Lead in Uganda.

The medical drones project is being implemented in close coordination with the West Nile region Local Government leadership and is being supported by a collaboration including the Ministry of Health of Uganda, Makerere University, UNCDF, and the Academy for Health Innovation Uganda. Support and approvals have been given by the Ministry of Defence and Civil Aviation Authority. It builds on the experience of Infectious Diseases Institute using medical drones to deliver HIV drugs in hard-to-reach areas in Kalangala district.
“This research project will evaluate COVID-19 sample transport by medical drones. It is the first step in developing the use of medical drones in outbreaks in Uganda. This drone technology project will help us to understand how to reduce the turnaround time for COVID-19 test samples. If successful, we will look at other uses for the medical drones in West Nile” said Rosalind Parkes-Ratanshi, Research and Development Lead for Academy of Health Innovation, Infectious Diseases Institute.

About Makerere University’s Infectious Disease Institute

The Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) was established in 2002 in Kampala, Uganda, by the Academic Alliance for AIDS Care and Prevention in Africa, a group of infectious diseases experts from Uganda and North America whose vision and perseverance for an Africa free from the burden of infectious disease enabled the IDI to become a world-class center of excellence.
In 2004, ownership of the Institute was transferred to Makerere University. Today, a thriving IDI plays an integral role in the Ugandan health care system having developed strong and enduring links with the Ministry of Health (MoH). IDI’s driving mission is to strengthen health systems in Africa, with a strong emphasis on infectious diseases, through research and capacity development.
About the Academy for Health Innovation Uganda
The Academy for Health Innovation Uganda was formed after an MOU between the Ugandan Ministry of Health, Infectious Diseases Institute, the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, and the Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust. The Academy is the flagship home of Connect for Life™ – a collaborative program to empower healthcare workers, academics and patients to address critical health challenges, including HIV, tuberculosis (TB) and maternal and child health in resource limited settings.
Our vision is sustainable health care accessible to all in Uganda, and our mission is to improve health outcomes through innovations in clinical care, capacity building, systems strengthening and research, which inform policy and practice.

The UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) makes public and private finance work for the poor in the world’s 46 least developed countries (LDCs). With its capital mandate and instruments, UNCDF offers “last mile” finance models that unlock public and private resources, especially at the domestic level, to reduce poverty and support local economic development. This last mile is where available resources for development are scarcest; where market failures are most pronounced; and where benefits from national growth tend to leave people excluded.

UNCDF’s financing models work through three channels: (1) inclusive digital economies, which connects individuals, households, and small businesses with financial eco-systems that catalyze participation in the local economy, and provide tools to climb out of poverty and manage financial lives; (2) local development finance, which capacitates localities through fiscal decentralization, innovative municipal finance, and structured project finance to drive local economic expansion and sustainable development; and (3) investment finance, which provides catalytic financial structuring, de-risking, and capital deployment to drive SDG impact and domestic resource mobilization.

By strengthening how finance works for poor people at the household, small enterprise, and local infrastructure levels, UNCDF contributes to SDG 1 on eradicating poverty with a focus on reaching the last mile and addressing exclusion and inequalities of access. At the same time, UNCDF deploys its capital finance mandate in line with SDG 17 on the means of implementation, to unlock public and private finance for the poor at the local level. By identifying those market segments where innovative financing models can have transformational impact in helping to reach the last mile, UNCDF contributes to a number of different SDGs and currently to 28 of 169 targets.