Rwanda’s national drone delivery program enables blood transfusion clinics across the Western half of the country.
Lack of adequate transportation, communication and supply chain infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa hampers access to lifesaving and critical health products. Rwandan government has begun using drones to make life-saving blood deliveries to patients in the most remote parts of the country.
The drones and delivery service built and operated by Zipline, a California-based robotics company has the capacity to make up to 150 on-demand, emergency deliveries per day of life-saving blood to 21 transfusing facilities located in the western half of the country.
In Rwanda, postpartum hemorrhaging is the leading cause of death for pregnant women. Blood requires storage and transport at safe temperatures and spoils quickly. Due to the fact that there are many different blood products and no way to accurately project future needs, transfusion clinics in Rwanda do not keep all the blood they may need in stock.
“Drones are very useful, both commercially and for improving services in the health sector. We are happy to be launching this innovative technology and to continue working with partners to develop it further,” said Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
Rwanda’s national drone delivery program enables blood transfusion clinics across the Western half of the country to place emergency orders by cell phone text message. The orders are then received by Zipline at its distribution center located in the country’s Muhanga region where the company maintains a fleet of 15 drones, called Zips.
Each Zip can fly up to 150 km round trip regardless of the weather and carry 1.5kg of blood, which is enough to save a person’s life. Zips take off and land at the distribution center, and make deliveries by descending close to the ground and air dropping medicine to a designated spot called a “mailbox” near the health centers they serve. Zipline will make 50-150 emergency flights a day to 21 transfusion clinics across the Western Half of Rwanda and can fulfill orders in around 30 minutes.
“Drones have the potential to revolutionise the way we reach remote communities with emergency medical supplies. The hours saved delivering blood products or a vaccine for someone who has been exposed to rabies with this technology could make the difference between life and death,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
This project will also act as an important test for whether drones are a viable way to improve targeted vaccine delivery around the world. Every child deserves basic, lifesaving vaccines. This technology could be an important step towards ensuring they get them.”
On his part, Eduardo Martinez, president of The UPS Foundation and chief diversity and inclusion officer at UPS said one of the most important focus areas for The UPS Foundation is to spark public-private partnerships that create powerful scale and drive demonstrable impact in support of global humanitarian aid and relief.
Rwanda plans to expand Zipline’s drone delivery service to the Eastern half of the country in early 2017, putting almost every one of the country’s 11 million citizens within reach of instant delivery of lifesaving medicines.
While Rwanda’s dro
ne delivery service will initially focus on blood, an international partnership between UPS, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and Zipline will help the country quickly expand the types of medicines and lifesaving vaccines that can be delivered. UPS has already provided US$1.1 million grant for the study of Rwanda’s blood drone delivery operation with an eye towards helping the country quickly expand the types of medicines and lifesaving vaccines to be delivered.
Over the course of the next year, and with the support of the partnership with UPS and Gavi, Zipline plans to expand drone delivery services to countries across Africa and the Americas. Additionally, Zipline recently announced plans at the White House to expand it service to the United States, where it will serve Indian reservations in Maryland, Nevada, and Washington State.