Doctors use drones to drop medical supplies in Madagascar

The island country is ravaged by tuberculosis and doctors are using this technology to treat villagers in rural areas without endangering themselves.
7:12 | 04/19/17

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Transcript for Doctors use drones to drop medical supplies in Madagascar
Tonight we travel to the island of Madagascar, a tropical paradise with flourishing wildlife. Sometimes struggling humans. The population has been ravaged by easily curable diseases due to the prohibitive costs of medical transport. Now a team of doctors has found a work-around, or over, by using drones. Here's ABC's Alex Marquardt. Reporter: Box after box of medical supplies packed up. Generators, camping gear, food and water. Strapped to the roof of a bus. This is essentially the support mission for getting the medicines that are in those two boxes to the people who need it. Reporter: We're on our way to a poor remote village to see why this man, Dr. Peter small, a Tu tuberculosis specialist, is so excited. Madagascar is one of the most beautiful and impoverished countries on Earth. Diseases easily treated and cured by modern medicine still spreading unchecked here. This village typifies the challenge faced in delivering heth care in remote areas. Using innovative technology to see if we can leap over the roadblocks between here and those villages. Reporter: Dr. Small wants to soar over those roadblocks using technology originally developed for war and now seen everywhere. Drones. The drone here was designed by a michigan-based company called vayu which has worked with said, the brain child of Daniel pep history came up with the idea while living in rural Indiana. The drone could do the job and obviate the need for expensive travel at considerable risk and cost, sacrificing daily wages, if they're farmers having to give up a day in their fields. Reporter: The vayu drone takes off like a quad copter, can fly 40 miles like a plane with a five-pound payload, and land vertically. Ferrying samples, tests and medication, eliminating visits to a clinic, all in mere minutes. Melt with wide-eyed fascination and excitement. You see this as a scaleable technology that can be used around the world and for a variety of medical conditions? I think its highest yield in rural areas of developing countries specifically where you have hilly terrains and poor roads, we can fly there, pick up lab samples, fly back in the same afternoon, and diagnose a disease and transport medicine busy that evening. That's unthinkable at the moment. Reporter: Dr. Small isn't the only one who sees this as revolutionary technology. Another American group called zipline is using a different kind of drone in Rwanda. It doesn't land but parachutes life-saving emergency supplies into distant areas like the one we're on our way to visit. The night before, we watched how they planned for these missions. What they're doing is using Google Earth to zoom in on these tiny villages, literally finding the exact spot where these drones are going to land. That's a no-fly zone, I don't like that. Reporter: Madagascar is raf Valk ravaged by tuberculosis. More than 13,000 died of it in 2015, around the world 1.8 million. The disease which affects the lungs is very treatable, if people have access to care. First question, what's it going to cost? Evidently if you're flying a bomb into a village, money is no object. If you're delivering life-saving medicines, suddenly you have to do it for practically nothing. Reporter: $25,000, to be exact. We cross a river and wind through fields to a village that means "Nice tree." 60 mud huts, 300 residents. Incredibly removed in time. From an infectious disease standpoint, they're still battling diseases of antiquity like plague. Reporter: A warm but wary welcome from the village children. These your geese? Goosy? Geesy? Reporter: People here have died of tuberculosis before. There are two known cases, five more suspected cases. The villagers gather so the health team can explain they'll be carrying out tests and training. While a tent is set up as a makeshift doctor's office to collect saliva samples. 16-year-old Maurice young is one of the suspected TV cases. He has chest pain. And after that, there is a blood that comes out when she -- Cough? Yeah. Reporter: He tells the team he hasn't tried to get treatment, he's drinking sugar water for the pain. He's missing school and work because of these symptoms? Yeah. Reporter: We go home to see his living conditions. And it's immediately clear what the problem could be. Eight people live in this house, including his mother. Both of whom are suspect tuberculosis cases. Every house in this village is like this one where they have an open fire here. They're cooking for dinner. And none of them have chimneys. So this entire room, this entire house, is full of smoke. Reporter: As dawn breaks in the village, we go back to take more samples. See if he can bring something up, deep in his lungs. I don't see blood in the specimen but this is not a Normal thing for someone to cough up, this has me worried. Down the line you're hoping to take the dispute actual, stick it on a drone, send it sfwhak in a future world I think there will be somebody in this village who can recognize somebody who might have tb, call in a drone, collect the dispute actual, send it back. Reporter: The team records a training video and shows the villagers how they would use the quip the drone would fly in. If we can make it work for tb, there's no reason we can't make it work for other things. We could use it for delivering vaccines, for delivering medications for women who are hemorrhaging after childbirth. Reporter: Back at the lab, Dr. Small studies the samples for signs of tuberculosis. There is no clinician who could sit in that village and tell you definitively if those people had tube clothe or not. It absolutely requires a laboratory test. Reporter: After more tests he finds that thankfully neither Maurice young nor his parents have tb. Beyond the hurdles of poverty, education ask technology, we saw for ourselves just how simple the obstacles can be. As if this project isn't complex enough, the drone can't fly in all this pouring rain, which is so common in this country. You can have all the modern technology you want, but it's often no match for mother nature. That hasn't dampened the ambitions of the project's leaders. The truth of the matter is when you speak to government officials they recognize the value proposition of this technology. There actually is a lot of excitement and a lot of eagerness to start using this technology here. But it's not going to happen overnight. Reporter: The excitement for all involved so obvious, so contagious, this potential revolution is far more than a flight of fancy. For "Nightline," I'm Alex Marquardt, Madagascar. Next here, fresh off the

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