Breakthrough drones deliver breast milk in rural Uruguay

Breakthrough drones deliver breast milk in rural Uruguay

A drone hovers over Tacuarembó hospital in Uruguay, carrying its precious cargo: breast milk intended for children in remote parts of the country.

Sebastián Macías - Cielum

Until three months ago, nurse Leopoldina Castelli used to send bottles of breast milk to nourish babies in the remote areas of Tacuarembó, in northern Uruguay, by way of ambulances or military trucks. That is, if the vehicles were available and the roads were passable, which wasn’t always the case. Now, five days per week, she stands by a runway at the hospital, located in Tacuarembó’s capital, watching a drone take off and disappear from view, carrying the milk to clinics that serve the babies’ families.

The drones can fly as far as 62 miles. Long distances and rough roads are no obstacles. The babies, whose mothers struggle to produce sufficient milk and cannot afford formula, now receive ample supplies for healthy growth. “Today we provided nourishment to a significantly larger number of children, and this is something that deeply moves me,” Castelli says.

About two decades ago, the Tacuarembó hospital established its own milk bank, supported by donations from mothers across Tacuarembó. Over the years, the bank has provided milk to infants immediately after birth. It's helped drive a “significant and sustained” decrease in infant mortality, says the hospital director, Ciro Ferreira.

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María de los Ángeles Orfila is a science journalist based in Montevideo, Uruguay, with more than 18 years of experience in journalism. Her long-form writing has been featured in El País, and El Observador, two of the most influential newspapers in her country. She is currently participating in the Sharon Dunwoody Mentoring Program 2023 offered by The Open Notebook.
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