Drones are joining the fight against insect borne diseases

Drones are joining the fight against insect borne diseases

Drones are one step closer to combating insect borne diseases after a successful test, the UN has announced.

The UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have developed the drones in collaboration with UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and WeRobotics.

The drones will use a process called Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), where male insects are sterilised and then released into the wild to mate with female insects.

As sterile insects do not produce offspring, the insect population will decline.

Jeremy Bouyer, medical entomologist at the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, commented:

“The use of drones is a breakthrough, and paves the way for large-scale and cost-efficient releases, also over densely populated areas”

To be effective, SIT requires large numbers of the insects to be released over a given area in good conditions.

For example, the Aedes mosquito, which is responsible for dengue fever and yellow fever, do not disperse further than 100 metres in their lifetime. Their fragility means that high altitude releases, such as those from planes, can damage their wings.

The use of drones in the dispersal of sterilised insects is very cost effective as previously releasing sterilised insects was a time consuming process that required numerous people to individually release the insects in given locations.

The breakthrough comes at a critical time when cases of malaria have started to rise.

Jeremy Bouyer added:

“With the drone, we can treat 20 hectares in five minutes”

Adam Klaptocz, co-founder of WeRobotics, commented on the success of the test:

“We’re pleased with initial tests that show less than 10 per cent mortality through the entire chilling, transport and aerial release process”

The IAEA is working to minimise the weight of the drones to increase the number of insects it can carry. For example, their aim is to carry 150,000 per flight.

The tests were carried out in Brazil, one of the countries worst affected by the Zika virus.

Brazil is planning to use the drones from January 2019 at peak mosquito season.


The 4th Annual AIDF Asia Summit returns to Bangkok on 20-21 June. A key focus of the agenda will be communicable diseases, disease prevention and technology.

If you’d like to stay informed on the latest updates in aid and development, please sign up for the AIDF newsletter.

Image credit: WeRobotics 

Be part of the humanitarian aid and development community!

Register now to receive AIDF's newsletter with insights into latest trends, innovations and best practice in the humanitarian and development sectors