Tech-In-Health | Malaysia To Use Drones To Map Malaria Outbreaks

“Innovation is the process of turning ideas into manufacturable and marketable form.” — Watts Humphrey

In the jungles on the island of Borneo, Malaysia, a humane innovation is being applied to help local residents in a fight against highly infectious disease, malaria.

Borneo is the third-largest island in the world and the largest island of Asia. The Borneo rainforest is 140 million years old, making it one of the oldest rainforests in the world. Unfortunately, in recent years, health officials in the Malaysian state of Sabah have seen a rise in the number of humans infected with the deadly parasite, which is spreading from macaques to people.

Fortunately, there’s a hope to discover why it’s spreading from monkeys to humans with greater frequency by mapping the areas where cases occur. Scientists are using small drones with cameras called senseFly eBee to map out and digitalize surface models of areas where the parasite has affected humans. The drones fly for up to 50 minutes and carry a 16-megapixel camera. “What we’re doing is creating a detailed map, which we can then superimpose or overlay with the human and the macaque movement,” said researcher Chris Drakeley, a professor of infection and immunity at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.


Researchers are also taking advantage of GPS Technology to track monkeys and residents in order to pinpoint where humans and macaques are likely to interact because those are where the transmissions of malaria to humans happened.

It’s true that using drones to replace satellites aimed at mapping environmental changes is an advanced solution. “We avoid cloud cover and can see what the land use was like today, next week, and the week after,” explained parasitologist Darkeley. In fact, drones have been providing a more comprehensive understanding. Best quadcopters under 50 are already on the market, too.

figure4_-9743b0de00f758b92f32e9177986208129c9e7a5-s800-c15It seems the public health implications of drone use has been extending far beyond malaria. In South Africa and Haiti, doctors have already used unmanned aircraft to carry medical supplies, like PPE and medicines, between rural clinics. Humanitarian drones also tracked property damages and hunted for survivors after Typhoon Haiyan. And when it comes to fighting against a disease like Ebola, drones could scan for changes in bats, habitats, given that the winged mammals are supposed carriers of the hemorrhagic fever. All of which means in a few years, a series of aerial vehicles will exist for wider use in public health research.

“Science can amuse and fascinate us all, but its engineering that changes the world.” — Isaac Asimov

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