Direct Relief and partners test delivering emergency medical supplies with UAS in Puerto Rico

Last week, Direct Relief, Merck, AT&T, Softbox and Volans-I tested using UAS to deliver emergency medical supplies in Puerto Rico.

Leveraging each of their respective strengths and capabilities, the organizations tested UAS flights and the coordinated processes needed to provide medical supplies via UAS in a temperature-controlled environment with real-time monitoring.

“Post-Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has become a hotbed of innovation in disaster relief and healthcare resiliency,” explains Andrew Schroeder, director of research and analysis at Direct Relief.

“In emergency response, we need to quickly get medicine to remote locations that may be otherwise reachable only by helicopter. As drone technology and systems for managing them improve, we expect them to save lives in places where disasters have cut off access to critically needed healthcare.”

The UAS are designed to carry the types of medications people often lose access to in disasters, which can lead to health crises or death. Researchers estimate that most deaths from last year's Hurricane Maria were a result of loss of access to medicines and health care, as opposed to wind or water.

A variety of converging circumstances likely contributed to an increase in deaths from chronic diseases that can be managed under normal conditions, including many people being displaced from their homes, health centers losing powers for weeks, and travel being extremely difficult.

Last week’s UAS flights were conducted in challenging terrain in remote areas impacted during Maria, and were flown beyond line of sight (BLOS). The UAS deliveries extended to remote mountain villages that were cut off from electricity and road access for months after Hurricane Maria, some of which, for a time, were only accessible by helicopter.

During upcoming tests, UAS will fly over sea to deliver medicines and vaccines.