Malawi pioneers use of drones to save lives: HIV early infant Diagnosis

Malawi has become the first country on the continent to test flight the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or Drones) for improvement of HIV services having being used in the past for surveillance and assessments of disaster.

The drone can carry a payload of up to 1kg

The drone can carry a payload of up to 1kg

The drone can be operated through a mobile phone app --Unicef/2016/Khonje

The drone can be operated through a mobile phone app –Unicef/2016/Khonje

The government and UNICEF started testing the use of UAVs  on Monday to explore cost effective ways of reducing waiting times for HIV testing infants.

The test, which is using simulated samples, will have the potential to cut waiting times drastically, and if successful will be integrated into the health system alongside other mechanisms such as road transport and SMS.

Minister of Health Peter Kumpalume said Malawi government is committed to the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV.

He compares the launch to his days as a young boy flying toy planes fashioned from maize husks. He is not worried about safety, but does acknowledge that there are cost issues.

“Malawi has pioneered a number of innovations in the delivery of HIV services including Option B+ policy which puts mothers on a simple lifelong treatment regime. We have also pioneered the delivery of results from the central laboratory to health facilities through text messages.

We believe our partnering with UNICEF to test UAVs is another innovation and will help in our drive to achieve the country’s goals in HIV prevention,” the Minister stated.

“It’s specialist testing we do for youngsters. If you delay giving them treatment most of them don’t live beyond two years old,”  said Kumpalume.

The first successful test flight completed the 10km route unhindered travelling from area 25 community health centre to Kamuzu Central Hospital laboratory and local residents gathered in amazement as the vehicle took off and flew away in the direction of the hospital.

Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF Representative to Malawi said HIV was still a barrier to development in Malawi, and every year around 10, 000 children die of HIV.

“This innovation could be a breakthrough in overcoming transport challenges and associated delays experienced by health workers in remote areas of Malawi.

“In 2014, nearly 40, 000 children in Malawi were born to HIV positive mothers. Quality care of these children depends on early diagnosis, which requires taking dried blood samples from health centre to central laboratory for testing.

“We hope that UAVs can be part of the solution to reduce transportation time as ensure that children who need it, start treatment early,” said Mdoe.

According to Mdoe, the test flights are assessing viability including cost and safety, will continue until Friday 18th March.

The UNICEF Representative further expressed gratefulness to Ministries of Health, Transport with civil aviation and defense for being supportive partners throughout the inception phase.

The UAVs are supported by US Company, Mannernet, who created the UAV being used in the test, designed exclusively for transportation. After the test flights, the cost comparison with road transport will be done, and if favorable, the second phase will carry out tests flights from remote areas in the country.

Samples are currently transported by road, either by motorbikes or local ambulances. Various factors including the high cost of diesel fuel, poor state of roads and limited distribution schedules have resulted in extreme delays in lab sample transport, constituting a significant impediment for scaling up paediatric ART’s effectiveness.

The experiment is still in its early phase.

The tests over the next week will measure the drone’s performance with differing winds speeds, humidity and distance, and if the results prove positive, the experiment will be expanded.

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Stop lying to yourselves. South Africa actually banned the use of drones three years ago because criminals were flying contra band into prisons….Is South Africa in Asia?

Kangamire Zowazowa

What’s wrong with this picture? All healthy bloated tummy guys in suits and dark glasses looking on as khaki pants cool and casual white boys demonstrate the technology. How can those suited bloated tummy fools manage or learn to operate this? They will take it to their three story houses and hold as trophies – trust me – mbava za cashgate izi

Kangamire Zowazowa
Mbuli nonse muli pano. What’s wrong with experimenting a faster way to deliver HIV and other tests? Learn to accept experimentation and not just be RISK AVERSE. Think of the potential business opportunities out of this. We have had this technology yamalichero since when – but we never made good use of it – just delivering death portions to neighbors, now the white guys have evolved and innovated the same technology and delivered to us ndiye – kukana. Machende anu nonse. Let’s try this and embrace development. You don’t want GAY RIGHTS, but you want EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANITY and ISLAM. Mbuli… Read more »
Rosalia Nkhoma

yes tisamangovomereza zilizonse

Thinking Aloud

We can use them during elections to deliver materials and results. But probably not good in terms of security. Some “idiot” could send a bomb and then there could be a “polobulemu”. Think carefully. There could be abuse.


What we need is health facilities to be available within reach of everyone and not blood samples to be ferried from remote mchinji to lilongwe central. we don’t have adequate health personell and whereever these blood samples will be delivered the personell there will be overwhelmed with work. in the end same old same old. and be careful Malawi might end up as an experimental ground for these things whose effects we are yet to understand. Even in america jeff Bezzos is not allowed to deliver barbied dolls and kindles using drones. Bwino nazo zinthu zoti sitinazimvetse, tingayambe kuvulala nazo.


Poor malawians, tisamangovomereza chilichonse, this technology has more negatives than positives apart from the high operational costs. it poses a risk of being misused by smugglers and terrorists. already several european countries are failing to control drones as they are flown over state houses, military sites and several sensitive areas, some have sometimes confused tampered with aeroplanes. imagine the devastation that can be caused by a 1kg explosive carried by the drone. chenjerani

Moja Moja

Develop a rapid diagnostic test, that can detect antigen not antibody and there will be no need for this. Our bio research technians are idiots, all they want kulimbana ndi ma doctors, work in your labs and solve shis diagnostic problem others white boys will come and experiment with out children and health care system. Kampulume be critical when appraising innovations do not just read the speaches they write for you. I doubt anyway if you are medical doctor not biologist, you talk nonsense!


This is a failing Ministry. You are rushing to something advanced you are failing the basics. Does it imply anything from outside should just be accepted? Let tell these people that some of the methodologies are not in our priorities. Do not make things upside down.

Brigadier General kauniuni
Brigadier General kauniuni

muona polekela ma drug ozunguza bongo alowa mbwelekete ndi ma drone anuo komanso asilikali muli kuti mungochedwa kumwa mowa ku ma tchansi ndi mwachikanda apa nanga alipo akutidziwa tinthu timeneti kumangoti ndinu a infantry matama basi

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