Nepali drones deliver much needed medicine to the Himalayas

May 2, 2018

Nepali labourer Om Bahadur Purja recently sprained his leg in his remote village and he received the treatment he needed in his home village – thanks to the recent arrival of a drone carrying basic medicines and equipment.

“This saved me a lot of trouble, time and money,” Purja told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Ramche, a Himalayan village 250 km northwest of the Nepali capital Kathmandu.

Proper healthcare facilities are inaccessible to thousands of people living in rural areas of Nepal which means they have to walk or be carried long distances if they fall ill. The poor Himalayan country has just over 2,600 doctors – less than one for every 10,000 people – and many of the 2,000 village health posts meant to offer urgent treatment lack basic medicines as supplies often take months to reach them.

That means many Nepalis rely traditional healers or opt to go without any medical care.

Enter Mahabir Pun, a 63-year-old former teacher who won national fame more than a decade ago with an ambitious scheme to link Himalayan villages like Ramche to the Internet.

Pun’s non-profit National Innovation Centre (NIC) has developed the country’s first “medical drone”, wanting to bring care to the remote mountain communities that need it most.

The machine, designed and assembled by young Nepali graduates, is the most effective way of bringing health services to people in difficult-to-reach areas, said Pun. He also hopes the scheme can provide employment for talented young Nepalis who might otherwise move abroad for work.

“It was designed, fabricated and assembled by the innovative young college graduates in our lab to keep costs low,” he said. “This way I am trying to promote innovation among the young engineers and contribute to slow the trend of people leaving Nepal for jobs abroad. ”The drone can carry samples of blood and other fluids to the nearest laboratory for tests, and deliver supplies, he added.

Pun won the Ramon Magsaysay prize – seen as Asia’s Nobel – for his work connecting Himalayan villages in Nepal to the web.

At present it can only carry a 1kg load about 2km, but the team is working on improving the range so it can carry a heavier load over a longer distance. The Internet connection proved a lifeline for villages with no road access or mobile phone reception – an achievement all the more impressive as it was achieved during a 10-year Maoist insurgency that brought a large part of Nepal to a standstill. The country of 28.6 million people restricts drone use, so Pun is working with officials to ensure his scheme is a success.

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