Leveraging Drones for Disease Prevention in Pakistan
Exploring the use of drones to address water-borne diseases
In 2022, heavy monsoon rains wreaked havoc in Pakistan, affecting a staggering one-third of the population, including 16 million children.
The catastrophic floods resulted in over 1,700 deaths, leaving countless families homeless and deprived of their livelihoods, access to food and healthcare. Long after the crisis, malnutrition and disease outbreaks continue to affect children and women in the flood-affected areas.
In Sindh, the country’s third-largest province, one of the most urgent concerns in the aftermath of the disaster was the rapid spread of water-borne illnesses such as malaria, dengue, skin diseases and diarrhoea. Communities whose schools and villages were left surrounded by large bodies of stagnant water became dangerous breeding grounds for mosquitos. Motor vehicles deployed to the banks of water bodies spray gas insecticides but face significant limitations to their effectiveness considering the vast areas affected.
Given the impact of the flood, innovative solutions are urgently required to support the affected communities. Today, UNICEF’s Country Office in Pakistan is working in close partnership with Sindh’s Directorate of Health Services and Regulations and Coordination to explore the potential for drones to identify and spray mosquito breeding sites with larvicides as they offer a more efficient way of covering larger, more isolated areas in a shorter period of time.
Worldwide, the use of drones remains controversial. However, UNICEF and partners are exploring how to safely leverage this technology to improve the health outcomes of children in Pakistan. From assessing the impact of natural disasters and coordinating effective emergency responses to digital mapping for the design and construction of temporary protection infrastructure, drones have the potential to support communities during emergencies.
Since 2021, the use of drones-for-good in Pakistan has expanded with the establishment of the Civil Drone Authority, especially in agricultural contexts to combat insect attacks and for pesticides. Building on this, there is an opportunity to collaborate with law enforcement units, local leadership and communities to explore the use of drones in post-emergency contexts.
We strongly believe that utilizing drones for disaster monitoring and spreading larvicides will not only prevent water-borne diseases, but also save the lives of vulnerable children in flood-prone regions of Pakistan. UNICEF looks forward to exploring how this technology could support Government efforts to mitigate the impact of natural disasters in Pakistan.
Innovative approaches like this play a pivotal role in UNICEF’s unwavering commitment to building resilient health systems for children and their families. Alongside partners like Takeda and the Government of Sweden, UNICEF will continue to leverage the transformational potential of innovation by discovering, co-creating, and scaling innovative tech solutions to address global health challenges.