Sunday, October 24, 2021

Swooping in to improve healthcare access in regional Victoria

by Nick Adams

In a year where fast and safe medical testing has become more important than ever, now is the time to improve how we deliver medication and medical samples. So – why not use drones?  

Swoop Aero, based in Melbourne, is doing just that. After tackling medical logistics in regional Australian and emerging African nations, they’re turning their attention to Victoria where they hope to boost healthcare connectivity for regional communities.

Their aeromedical logistics management system is designed to be integrated alongside existing modes of transport and enables the medical supply chain to be more responsive. Essentially, it’s about connecting local communities with drone deliveries of medical supplies, samples and other lightweight medical equipment.

Speaking from a hotel room on his last day of quarantine late last year, Swoop Aero CEO Eric Peck explained the work he had been doing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the previous five weeks.

“In July 2019, we launched our operations in Congo,” says Eric, when the drone network was established, “so this recent trip was a big expansion of the program where we worked really closely with the government, civil aviation and the ministry of health to get it up and running.”

The drone network in Congo is delivering medical products to 25 health centres, and indirectly to an additional 45 health facilities, focusing on childhood vaccine deliveries and emergency transport of laboratory samples for COVID-19 and Ebola, with the aim of improving access to critical medical commodities and test results.

Having previously rolled out networks in other emerging African nations, Eric and the team are now setting their sights on supporting communities closer to home.

Rolling out in Victoria

Eric envisions that a rollout of the system in Victoria would give regional Victorians better access to healthcare, providing access to medication just as quickly as those in urban areas.

“We’re wanting to get supplies delivered into properties as quickly as possible. Whether that’s in Malawi, Melbourne or regional Victoria,” he says.

Eric’s team at Swoop Aero has been working with Regional Development Victoria (RDV) to facilitate talks with local councils about implementing drone launch and delivery pads.

“RDV has been helping us learn how to integrate and engage with the correct stakeholders at a government and a council level in the areas we want to operate in,” says Eric

Giving Victorians better access to medical supplies is no small task and comes with many difficulties, not just in terms of the legalities but also in educating communities.

“We want to make sure that if the man walking his dog at the beach sees a drone fly overhead that he isn’t going to be afraid. He should know why it’s there and what it’s delivering.”

Clearly labelling drones with medical symbols is an easy way to do this, but communicating with local communities before the program launches is just as important.

“We want to make sure we’re engaging with people in communities and bringing them along with us.

Through a pilot program, communities can see this coming and going for a period of time and learn about it and understand it and be very confident with it.”

“It’s our social responsibility as a company to integrate in a way that enables a smooth introduction to a community” said Eric.

Flying forwards

Since launching Swoop Aero in 2017, the company has grown from just a few employees to now employing 40 people, 25 of whom are based in Victoria, with the remainder based internationally.

The company plans to launch a Victorian regional pilot program in 2021, following further engagement with local communities.

Maybe just in time to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine to regional Victorians?