Medical experts are using cargo drones to combat one of Africa’s worst provincial HIV crises on the 84 remote islands that make up Uganda’s Kalangala District on the surface of Lake Victoria.

Uganda isn’t alone in the project; Rwanda and Ghana both use medical supply drones to reach out to remote areas, and the technology aims to provide life-saving medicines and supplies to more than 22 million Africans faster and more reliably.

The use of drones has been dubbed a “game changer,” and while Victoria is a lake, it is so large that a passenger ferry crossing it takes 16 hours. When you factor in the time spent stopping and navigating around the islands, distributing medical supplies by boat becomes a massive undertaking.

The islands of Lake Victoria, which are home to about 67,000 people, have an HIV incidence rate of 18%, much higher than the national average of 5.6 percent. Antiretroviral medications can help HIV-positive patients avoid the virus weakening their immune systems, and the cargo drones’ 4.5-foot wingspan can hold a kilogramme of these supplies at a time—up to 150 kilometres away (105 miles).

The drones, which were developed by the Academy For Health Innovation Ugandaand cost about $5,500 each, flew for the first time last week, and will go on to supply 78 different community groups and health facilities across the Ssese islands, with around 200 scheduled flights each month.

“Using medical drones is a huge step for us as a health sector in improving service delivery especially in hard to reach areas,” said Uganda’s director general of health services Henry Mwebesa, according to the Guardian. “It’s very useful. Once it’s successful we can adopt it for other facilities and replicate it in other places.”

“Thanks to the support and coordination of our partners, including Johnson & Johnson, this program will help gather the information and data needed to help make this future a reality, while also helping to deliver lifesaving care to people in need,” said Parkes-Ratanshi, director of the project for the Academy.

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