Indian Council of Medical Research releases guidance on using drones for medical supply delivery

The Indian Council of Medical Research, India’s peak body for biomedical research, has published its guidance for using drone technology in healthcare.


The 28-page document presents step-by-step guidance on obtaining regulatory approvals for using various kinds of drones and utilising air space for delivering medical supplies. It also discusses how to select suitable drones for medical supplies and provides criteria for choosing take-off and landing points for drones. The guidance also identifies the types of medical supplies that can be delivered via drone; the preparation of carrier boxes and the process of loading and unloading items from drones; and quality check aspects.

Additionally, it stresses the requirement and training needs of healthcare workers for drone-based delivery.

Based on the document, medical items approved for drone deliveries include vaccines and temperature-sensitive medical supplies with preservation needs of between 2-8 degrees Celsius; non-temperature sensitive supplies such as tablets, syrups, and surgicals; blood bags, and diagnostic biological samples such as tissues, urine, blood, pus, sputum, saliva or frozen specimens.


The ICMR noted the “immense potential” of drone technology in healthcare as it can serve as a last-mile logistics solution for delivering medical supplies in hard-to-reach areas. While there is growing interest, there is not enough information out there on conducting drone deliveries, and this is where its latest guidance can fill the gap in knowledge of using drones in healthcare transport.


The guidance was based on ICMR’s pilot project for assessing the feasibility of using drones for delivering COVID-19 vaccines and medical supplies in the northeastern states of Manipur and Nagaland in October last year. Samiran Panda, head of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases at ICMR, said the country’s COVID-19 vaccination drive gained a “renewed vigour” following the project. “In [the] future, drones are expected to play wider roles by offering a time-efficient mode for delivering lifesaving medications to far-flung and remote locations in India,” he said.

The first medical drone delivery in India happened in September 2021 after the government liberalised its drone policy that year. The Medicine from the Sky project was done in the southern state of Telangana by the World Economic Forum, together with Apollo Hospital’s HealthNet Global and government think tank NITI Aayog.

Early this year, Retailio, a local digital pharmaceutical marketplace, tried out drone medicine delivery in partnership with drone logistics firm Redwing Labs. The programme was conducted in the Chickkaballapur district in the southwestern state of Karnataka.


“Since the usage of drones in the healthcare system is a relatively new venture in the country, there are possibilities of confusion and lack of clarity on standard operating procedures. This guidance document, in compliance with the New Drone Rules-2021, presents detailed requirements to the drone operators for obtaining regulatory approvals; selecting suitable specification[s] of drones and [their] accessories for conducting specialised delivery operations; identifying and training of human resource for efficient on-ground deployment; and handling unforeseen events during field operations,” Dr Balram Bhargava, director-general of ICMR, commented.


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