The Time to Act is Now: Drone Delivery Systems in Haiti and Lessons from the Developing World

In light of recent discussions over the cholera epidemic and a pending class action law suit against the U.N. for “bringing cholera to Haiti,” this necessitates a discussion of preventative measures. More specifically, the use of drones in healthcare, and how they could have helped to lessen the blow dealt to the people of Haiti, almost 10,000 – but likely more – that have died due to the cholera epidemic since 2010.

According to the BBC, drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (“UAVs”), are often “used in situations where manned flight is considered too risky or difficult.” More generally, these agents have been used more frequently in combat offensives, often to target specific individuals with deadly fire or for the purpose of gaining intelligence on opposition forces. Commercially, drones have also caught the eye of companies like Amazon and Uber that have shown interest in using drone technology.

In the healthcare context, drones might be considered an untapped resource. This, however, is being addressed by the United Nations Children’s Fund (“UNICEF”) and the Malawi government to help streamline the often slow wait times and lack of medical supplies necessary to conduct HIV testing. Similarly, another African nation, Rwanda, has a similar program meant to remedy the issues with getting medical supplies to remote areas where infrastructure is not fully developed. Furthermore, the costs associated with drone delivery are relatively low; “[t]he UN agency is spending up to $1.5-million (U.S.) annually on the delivery of HIV blood samples in Malawi. The drones, by contrast, cost only a few thousand dollars each, and operating costs are low because they are battery-powered.”

Looking back to Haiti and the cholera epidemic, seemingly the moment to act is now. A program that uses drone technology to diagnose and ship medical supplies to the ill will be no doubt a large improvement to the status quo. Many areas of Haiti still are considered remote. More specifically, many roads leading out of the capital are not developed, making travel to a medical facility often an arduous task. For example, some healthcare practitioners state that:

Drones are likely to enhance healthcare delivery in developing countries and remote or impoverished areas of the U.S. While drones may not drop packages at the entrances of Chicago high-rises, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have delivered supplies to earthquake victims in Haiti and to places like Papua New Guinea.  Mayo Clinic predicts increased use of drones to transport blood products and drugs in response to mass casualty incidents and critical access hospital needs. Consider the benefits of drone-delivered defibrillators, organs, medications and medical supplies.

Thus, though the use of drones might bring up issues in the future regarding patient privacy, in the short-term,  there is hope that drone delivery systems could be instrumental in saving lives.

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Magdala is a second-year law student at the University of Illinois College of Law. She is the first generation of her family to be born in the United States!

Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH)

The Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) are a partnership of Haitian and US human rights advocates.

“We support the Haitian people in their struggle to achieve universal human rights, access to a just legal system, social justice, a society without violence, and the right to participate fully in choosing their government. Using models like the US civil rights movement, we are active in the courts, both in Haiti and internationally, in the streets and in poor neighborhoods. We work in partnership with grassroots movements, to transform the structural injustices that stand in the way of stability and prosperity for the majority of Haitians.”

The institute provided counsel for plaintiffs in the Georges v. UN, Haiti Cholera case.

In October 2010, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH)  introduced a cholera epidemic that has infected hundreds of thousands (approximately 7% of the population) and killed over 8,600 Haitians. A study from Yale  found that the Haiti Cholera outbreak could have easily been prevented.

On March 1, 2016, oral arguments were heard before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals concerning the 2010 Cholera outbreak.

The case was dismissed on January 9, 2015. The court holding that the United Nations, MINUSTAH, Ban Ki-moon, and Edmond Mulet were absolutely immune from suit in that Court. Plaintiffs’ claims against these defendants are were DISMISSED under Rule 12(h)(3) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiffs’ motion for affirmation that service has been made, or, in the alternative, for service of process by alternative means was DENIED as moot.

The Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, beginning the appeals process on February 12, 2015 and filing a principal appellate brief on May 27, 2015. On June 3, 2015, 86 amici filed six briefs in support of Plaintiffs. On August 26, 2015, the United States filed an amicus brief in support of affirmance of UN immunity. On September 25, 2015, Plaintiffs filed a reply brief. On March 1, 2016, the oral arguments were heard before Hon. Judge Cabranes, Judge Parker, and Judge Lynch.

IJDH is now awaiting the judges’ decision.