The Rwandan government has partnered with Californian based robotics company Zipline, logistics firm UPS, and international charity Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to launch a national drone delivery service, capable of making up to 150 on-demand deliveries of blood daily to 21 transfusing facilities in the west of the African country.
While the new drone service will initially focus on blood, there are plans in place to quickly expand the types of medicines and lifesaving vaccines that can be delivered.
Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, said, “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.”
Throughout the developing world, access to lifesaving and critical health products is hampered by what is known as the last-mile problem the inability to deliver needed medicine from a city to rural or remote locations due to lack of adequate transportation, communication and supply chain infrastructure.
In Rwanda, postpartum hemorrhaging is the leading cause of death for pregnant women. Blood requires storage and transport at safe temperatures and spoils quickly. Because there are many different blood products and no way to accurately project future needs, many transfusion clinics do not keep all the blood they may need in stock.
During Rwanda’s lengthy rainy season, many roads wash out becoming impassible or non-existent. The result is that all too often someone in need of a lifesaving transfusion cannot access the blood they need to survive.
Rwanda’s national drone delivery program enables blood transfusion clinics 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 150km (93 miles) and can carry 1.5kg (3.3 lb) of blood, which is enough to save a person’s life. Zips take off and land at the Nest, 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 is able to fulfill each order in approximately 30 minutes.
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.
Keller Rinaudo, CEO, Zipline, said, “The inability to deliver life saving medicines to the people who need them the most causes millions of preventable deaths each year,around the world. Zipline will help solve that problem once and for all. We’ve built an instant delivery system for the world, allowing medicine to be delivered on-demand and at low-cost, anywhere.”
Eduardo Martinez, president of The UPS Foundation, which provides a US$1.1m grant for the project, 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.
“The shared belief in the ability to save lives through applied innovation, combined with Rwanda’s vision, is now not only poised to advance humanitarian logistics and logistics as we know it around the world, but also to save lives.
“Now is when our partnership between The UPS Foundation, Gavi and Zipline counts most, as we see the first operational missions dedicated to shipping lifesaving blood, and keep our eye on what the future can bring for other life-saving commodities, as well as for other parts of the world.”
October 18, 2016