Malawi’s government has started an experiment of using drones to help it test children in rural areas for HIV.
The government is working with the United Nations Children Agency, UNICEF to explore cost effective ways of reducing the time it takes to test for HIV.
With an estimated 1.1 million people living with HIV in Malawi, the drones will help test thousands of children with HIV.
The majority of them will die before their second birthday if they are not on treatment.
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“This programme started with the context we have in Malawi which is a country that still has 10 percent of its population HIV positive. That also extends to children, especially infants. Now for infants it is really critical if they are HIV positive, they are put on treatment straight away,’‘ Angela Travis, Chief of Communication for UNICEF Malawi said.
‘‘The majority of them will die before their second birthday if they are not on treatment. So that was really where UNICEF came from and we were looking at ways where we could shorten the time between testing of these infants and delivery of results,” Travis added.
The drones will be used to be transport medical tests and blood samples from rural clinics to laboratories.
In 2014, hundreds of children in the Southern African country died from HIV-related diseases. Less than half of them were on treatment. Nearly 40,000 children were born to HIV-positive mothers that year.
At present, it takes an average of 11 days to get samples from a health centre to a testing lab, and up to two months for the results to be delivered.
Transporting the samples by road is often fraught with challenges. From the high cost of fuel to poor state of roads, these challenges have resulted in extreme delays.
The government has assured it is committed to the prevention of HIV transmission.
“Malawi has pioneered a number of innovations in the delivery of HIV services including the 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 the 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 and treatment”, Minister of Health Dr. Peter Kumpalume said.