Drones: To battle HIV or The Product of Witchcraft

by Andrea_C on April 13, 2016 - 10:56pm

Drones, or UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) tend to have a negative connotation due to their implication in military and spy usage, but surely we know there is much more to drones than that. Drones are used in various domains and applications such as for hurricane hunting, 3-D mapping, wildlife protection, agriculture even for search and rescue (Handwerk). A recent initiative funded the UN Child fund (UNICEF) in partner with the Malawian government suggests the use of drones to carry blood samples from a local clinic in Malawi to a bigger hospital about 10 kilometers away so they can be tested for HIV and then return the results more efficiently. This idea is not the first of its kind, in fact, in Haiti and Papua New Guinea for example, have been used in medical delivers since the year of 2012 after the earthquake that shook the population (Medical drones poised to take off). 

The project in Malawi has a great potential and those who developed this project truly believe so. Malawi has one of the largest rates of HIV in the world (Kuo) and one only half of the affected children were being treated in 2014. The lack in testing and diagnosis is a factor that greatly affects this issue which is due to the extremely long delay for testing the blood samples. This is in part because of the unreliable process for bringing the samples from the rural clinics to testing centers as this is often done with once a week with motorcycles but to the poor road quality and cost of fuel, this is often not the case (McNeish). The drones allow for the time of travel to be reduce from an average of 11 days to a delay of 15 minutes.  While the time of testing may still be long, UNICEF officials in charge of this project are hoping for the rapid deliveries push for rapid analysis (Kuo). Moreover, the project founders are also hoping that this initiative will help reduce the cost of these operations as explained by McNeish.

An important question must be considered at this point concerning projects of this sort in the future. Should cultural background and traditions be considered when implanting humanitarian projects with the use of controversial technology? The use of drones in this Malawian community sparked concerns even though these where only to be used for aiding the community.

Not everyone one in the community was convinced by the presence of drones flying over their homes. In fact, UNICEF had to reassure the local community into accepted these odd self-flying technological gadgets as thess went against traditional Malawian beliefs. Traditional beliefs in witchcraft say that flying objects can cast spells (York) and led for people to believe that the drones were products of witchcraft and were here to hurt them (McNeish). Traditional beliefs still have significant importance in Malawi culture, in September 2015, an alleged “witchcraft plane” crash in Gungandi attracted hundreds of people from neighbouring areas and this plane crash spraked debate whether this plane was evident that proved witchcraft is real or not (Witchcraft Plane Crash Causes Commotion in Kasungu).

On the other hand, the Malawian government does not hold the same world view in terms of this issues. In fact, they have been trying very hard to assure their citizens that drones are not here to harm, but to help. They have publically endorsed the drones to their population and created regulations that made the project accessible with only minor restrictions contrarily to that drones are subject to in Europe and America (York). Like those who are implanting the project, they are convinced that drones are an economic and efficient way to improve the situation of HIV in Malawi.

To ease to implantation of this project and to counter the fears associated with witchcraft and drones, the UNICEF held community days where citizens could come up close and look at the drones, touch them and even see them fly, in order to demystify the object (Kuo). With any luck, this initiative will be enough to eliminate tension between citizens and the international aid community and hopefully more projects of this sort can multiply in the surrounding African communities which are also stuck to deal with the same issue.


Works Cited

Handwerk, Brian. “5 Surprising Drone Uses (Besides Amazon Delivery).” National Geographic. n.p. 2 December 2013. Web. 28 March 2016.

Kuo, Lily. “Drone delivery could give Africa’s HIV-positive babies a fighting chance at survival.” Quartz Africa. n.p. 15 March 2016. Web. 28 March 2016.

McNeish, Hannah. “Malawi turns to drones to bolster child healthcare in remote communities.” The Guardian. The Guardian. 28 March 2016. Web. 28 March 2016.

“Medical drones poised to take off.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, n.d. Web. 28 March 2016.

 “Witchcraft Plane Crash Causes Commotion in Kasungu”. Nyasa Times.  Nyasa Times. 8 September 2015. Web. 10 April 2016.

York, Geoffrey. “Drones enter Africa’s fight against HIV.” The Globe and Mail. The Globe and Mail. 14 March 2016. Web. 28 March 2016.