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Wednesday 16 January 2019
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Using drones to connect the disconnected citizens to crucial services

Drones are increasingly becoming common. They can be used for almost everything, from little things such as parcel delivery to more crucial uses such as delivering first aid care and medicine in places that cannot be reached by vehicle, helicopter or plane. This article gives an overview on drones and how Namibia can rely on drones to bring health care services to those who are far away and disconnected from it. UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) are not new, they have long been used by the US military to support its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than 10 years. The use of drones in military operations has been criticised by many citizens because armed UAV can kill combatants and innocent civilians – thus, resulting in excessive collateral damage. Beyond the negative and destructive use of drones, innovators around the world especially in developing countries are increasingly adopting the use of drones to solve local challenges, from the surveillance on endangered species to improved journalism. The use of drones is not only changing how we see the world but how we can impact the world. Some African start-ups are using drone technology to provide aerial data solutions in mining, agriculture, civil engineering, water and forestry. Rocketmine, a Johannesburg-based South African start-up tech company, is using drones to quantify mine stockpile volumes using aerial volumetric 3D mapping.  Traditionally, this type of work required employees to walk over 40-metre piles with GPS devices, which is less accurate and can endanger the lives of employees. Moreover, this type of job usually takes employees half a day to complete. However, using a drone the same job can be completed in half an hour. In Ghana, another entrepreneur is using drones to provide aerial photography, property surveillance and low altitude advertisement. Unlike in many developed nations where the use of drones is being restricted by tough laws, unmanned aerial vehicles are operating in an unregulated space in Africa. Thus making it hard for the industry to boom. However, lack of policies also present an opportunity to explore the commercial viability and possible applications of drones.

Drones can play a pivotal role in improving the delivery of many public services for example health. In Malawi, drones are being used to travel back and forth between labs and rural health clinics to deliver HIV test blood samples. According to UNICEF, this has drastically reduced the cost and waiting time for HIV test results.  Thus, help communities get tested faster. The results of this pilot in Malawi, shows that unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) can be used as a cost-effective mode of transport for small parcels such as blood samples and medicine. Rwanda is another practical example where unmanned aerial vehicles are being used to save lives by delivering critical medical supplies in usually inaccessible remote areas. Therefore, ensuring that emergency services reach those who need it the most and at the right time. Using their mobile phones doctors request medicine by sending an SMS (short message service) and within a short period of time, a drone is dispatched to deliver the requested medicine.

Namibia’s population is only about 2.3 million but it is scattered throughout this vast country, making it very expensive if not hard to reach out to every citizen because some remote areas are not accessible by road and too expensive to reach them by air. Like Rwanda and Malawi, Namibia can rely on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to ensure that no Namibian citizen is without access to primary health care medication. Although service delivery is the focus of this article, the application of drones can also be extended beyond service delivery to environmental monitoring, precision agriculture and crop surveillance. As scary as they can be, drones present a unique opportunity for Africa, Namibia included. As innovators and entrepreneurs, let us leverage on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to ensure that all Namibians have access to crucial services such a medicine. Therefore, contribute to the building of an inclusive Namibian house where all citizens have access to primary health care and medication.

Lameck Mbangula Amugongo is country Ambassador of 1 Billion Africa in Namibia. He holds B.IT: Software Engineering, B.Hons: SoftwareDevelopment (Cum Laude) and currently pursuing MSc.
Computer Science




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