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Bhutan tests drones for carrying medical supplies

In an attempt to save lives in Bhutan, the government has initiated a pilot project by using drones to transport medical supplies to remote and inaccessible regions.

THIMPHU: In an attempt to save lives in remote picturesque Bhutan, the government has initiated a pilot project by using drones to transport medical supplies.

Together with Matternet, a Silicon Valley startup, the project hopes to test if quad-copters can take this remote diagnosis medicare known as tele-medicine to the next level.

These Unmanned Aerial Vehicles can transport packages of up to 2kg which contain items like vaccines and blood samples over a distance of about 10 kilometres at a time. The idea is to compliment the use of telemedicine where roads are not always the best option especially in times of bad weather and emergencies.

As the Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay stood and watched the quad-copter take off from the National Referral Hospital in Thimphu, he stressed the project is at an experimental stage.

"With telemedicine you can overcome the problem of communication, but not the physical problem of conveying the medication or the sample from the patient to the doctor,” he said. “One way of doing that is by using quad-copters - unmanned helicopters. We are just experimenting with it right now. We want to see where it goes."

Matternet develops transportation networks using drones to reach hard-to-access places. This project is the first trial at a high altitude of 2,300 metres above sea level.

Bhutan's population of about 742,000 people has about three doctors for every 10,000 people.

If this trial is successful, it may perhaps save lives beyond Bhutan.

Tshering Tobgay said: "I don't know about cost. It will benefit the people by giving them better access to more immediate and wholesome care and in times of emergency. But it won't just benefit Bhutan. If it can be proved in Bhutan - it will benefit the world.”