Health and Healthcare Systems

This Chilean community is using drones to deliver medicine to the elderly

Local community workers use a drone loaded with disinfectant to released on streets during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Talcahuano, Chile March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Jose Luis Saavedra - RC2JOF9IBZQT

From using drones to disinfect public spaces, to transporting essentials to remote communities, Chile has used drone technology to combat COVID-19 effectively. Image: REUTERS/Jose Luis Saavedra

Dave Sherwood
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  • With COVID-19 forcing many at-risk seniors to stay indoors, the small Chilean beach enclave of Zapallar is using drones to deliver medication and supplies to isolated elderly people.
  • “Now we have a solution to help them get their medications, without exposing a public worker or a member of the family of the person in quarantine,” Mayor Alessandri said.

The small Chilean beach enclave of Zapallar has turned to high-tech drones to deliver medications, masks and hand sanitizer to its elderly in remote areas as the coronavirus continues its advance across the largely rural South American nation.

A heavy-duty four-propeller drone, complete with landing gear, is loaded with a bag of supplies in the city center then blasts off across the parched, hilly landscape to reach areas that are as much as a two-hour walk from the nearest pharmacy.

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Chile has confirmed more than 10,000 cases of coronavirus in the nearly two months since the outbreak began. The country has placed strict limits on visits to nursing homes and implemented a system of selective, regional quarantines to isolate those who are sick.

Zapallar has yet to report a case of coronavirus. But its pilot drone program is designed to keep the elderly and poor, many who lack transportation, out of harm’s way, Mayor Gustavo Alessandri said. It could also help supply families in quarantine, should the outbreak hit closer to home.

“Now we have a solution to help them get their medications, without exposing a public worker or a member of the family of the person in quarantine,” Alessandri said.

The drones are remotely controlled by municipal workers.

Seniors rave about the program. The town´s posh coastline is dotted with the homes and helicopter landing pads of Santiago´s rich and famous, but its interior is poorer, isolated and more sparsely populated.

“This is how we keep progressing and working together,” Alessandri said.

The wealthy beach community has also used drones for ocean rescues and to monitor forest and brush fires.

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