The use of drones to transport crucial medicines or delicate samples for lab testing in remote or urban settings may soon be a common feature in Kenya and other countries.
A new research study has found that drones can successfully transport delicate human samples for laboratory testing quite well from remote regions without negatively affecting their quality. This development may see enhanced use of drones in healthcare.
The study by Ugandan and American researchers established that the accuracy of 33 per cent of the most common lab tests for humans were not affected even if the samples were transported by drones.
The study, by researchers Timothy Amukele, Lori Sokoll, Daniel Pepper, Dana Howard and Jeff Street has been published in the latest issue of peer-reviewed journal Pone.
Quick and efficient transportation of lab specimens and drugs without affecting their quality has been one of the major challenges facing healthcare professionals especially in remote and urban settings.
But this study, the first of its kind, settles the issue and may unlock the potential of drones in healthcare settings.
Two sets of samples were collected from 56 people with one set transported by a drone while the second set was not transported at all. This was done to compare if drone transportation would affect the quality of the specimen. But this was not found to be the case.
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Consultant Pathologist and University of Nairobi Honorary Lecturer Dr Ahmed Kalebi said that drones may soon become a regular feature in healthcare in Kenya to transport samples for lab testing or deliver drugs to patients.
Dr Kalebi, who is the Group CEO of Pathologists Lancet Kenya, the largest private medical laboratory service provider in Kenya said prices of drones are expected to drop even further due to large-scale manufacturing making them affordable for use in health care settings in Kenya.
"Drones can come in handy in urgent transportation of samples for lab testing or delivery of crucial drugs in remote locations which are difficult to access by other means of transport such as Northern Kenya," he said.
He added: "In urban settings, drones will still be useful because they are not affected by traffic congestion that negatively affects road transport. They can deliver samples for lab testing or drugs without much delay."
The most common mode of transport for lab samples and drugs in Kenya are vehicles, motorcycles or planes, but this has been a challenge especially in remote locations or urban settings like Nairobi and Mombasa which are affected by traffic congestion.
"Safe and quick transportation of lab samples is crucial in order to produce accurate results. Drones can come in handy in such cases and help to enhance healthcare provision in Kenya," said Dr Kalebi.
Transportation of delicate lab samples in Kenya and other countries is common since many labs cannot handle the full range of routine and specialised tests needed by patients.