Primary Health Centre at Pedaldoba, which did not have telecom and transport connectivity until last year, is scheduled to receive the first delivery of medicines via a drone

Taking medicines to the Primary Health Centre (PHC) at Pedaldoba in Meghalaya’s West Garo Hills district was an uphill task until about a year ago. Things haven’t improved much in the past 12 months, more so for five accessibility-challenged sub-centres under this PHC.

The scenario is expected to change on December 5 when the Pedaldoba PHC receives a consignment of medicines, vaccines and other healthcare necessities delivered by a Vertiplane X3, a customised drone, from what is believed to be India’s first drone station designed for medical purposes.

The drone station has been built at the Sub-divisional Hospital in Jengjal, about 69 km from Pedaldoba and 32 km from Tura, the District Headquarters and the largest town of Meghalaya’s western half.

“The Meghalaya Government decided to capitalise on the liberalised Drone Rules 2021 announced by the Ministry of Civil Aviation to usher in a new era of transportation. We focussed on the public health logistics because of the difficult terrain and the challenging road network in our State,” Health Minister James P.K. Sangma said.

A pilot project was accordingly undertaken and drones were flown on November 26, 2021, from a civil hospital to two PHCs in the State’s West Khasi Hills district. These PHCs are among those considered the most difficult to reach.

The success of the concept made the State government work on the Jengjal Drone Station, scheduled to be inaugurated by Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma on Monday. Once functional, the drone station is expected to serve as an efficient means of transport for all the rural healthcare facilities within a radius of 50 km.

“Although located near the border with Assam, Pedaldoba is one of the remotest areas in West Garo Hills district. We look forward to the drone delivery system for serving 18,599 people across 55 villages better,” a paramedic at the Pedaldoba PHC said.

Of the 55 villages, seven are accessible only on foot.

Health officials in Meghalaya said the drone station would run routine and emergency deliveries of vaccines, medicines, diagnostic samples, blood units and other medical supplies to and from the remote healthcare facilities for an initial period of a year.

The drone station would cater to the needs of 25 PHCs. Five of these PHCs have been identified for the first phase for the start of service immediately after the launch. The remaining 20 facilities would be finalised after the ongoing site reconnaissance is completed, officials said.

Five to eight drone flights would be operated per day depending on the demand, the officials said.

There are plans to set up similar drone stations at strategic locations elsewhere in the State primarily to reach out to 79% people who reside in the rural areas of Meghalaya, they added.