Publication: “As It Is Africa, It Is Ok”? Ethical Considerations of Development Use of Drones for Delivery in Malawi

PhD candidate Ning Wang at the Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine (IBME), University of Zurich, recently published an articles in the IEEE Transactions on Technology and Society entitled: “As It Is Africa, It Is Ok”? Ethical Considerations of Development Use of Drones for Delivery in Malawi. This work results from a four-week field study in the Lake Malawi region, where drones were used to help address the medical supply delivery challenges faced by the Government of Malawi. The article focuses on the ethical considerations associated with the use of technology for health development purposes, and raises awareness for the need of critical analysis in the deployment of technology in the aid sector.

Full text can be accessed here. A related live talk regarding this case study is available here. The author can be contacted at: ning.wang@ibme.uzh.ch.

Citation

Wang, N. (2021). “As It Is Africa, It Is Ok”? Ethical Considerations of Development Use of Drones for Delivery in Malawi. IEEE Transactions on Technology and Society, 2(1), 20-30.

Abstract

Since 2016, drones have been deployed in various development projects in sub-Saharan Africa, where trials, tests, and studies have been rolled out in countries, including Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, Ghana, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The use cases of drones vary, ranging from imagery collection to transportation of vaccines, lab samples, blood products, and other medical supplies. A wide range of stakeholders is involved, including governments, international organizations, educational institutions, as well as industry. Based on a field study conducted in 2019, this article investigates how drones are used for medical supply delivery in Malawi—a country where the community is underserved for healthcare and related infrastructure underdeveloped, while airspace is largely open and regulations generally relaxed. The objective of presenting this case study is to contribute to the evidence regarding the rapid deployment of medical cargo drones across the African continent, and to spark critical reflections over the utility, suitability, and impacts of incorporating drones in the existing health supply chain systems in resource-poor settings. The discussion revolves around two aspects: 1) the emergent “African Drone Rise”—is it ok “as it is Africa”? and 2) the normative role of technology in the aid sector—is it “a solution looking for a problem”? In conclusion, a call for more structured guidance for the systematic examination and evaluation of the medical cargo drone case is raised.

Keywords

Health supply chain system, humanitarian drone, medical cargo drone, medical supply delivery, public interest technology.

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