Drones deliver medicines in Africa

If you thought only hot-baked pizzas can be delivered in 30 minutes, think again. Zipline, a US-based company, takes the same time, or less, to deliver life-saving drugs, 148 vaccines and blood units to any of the 2,000 health facilities across Ghana. Zipline relies on a fleet of drones which it refers to as zips.

The process is simple. A doctor sends a message to Zipline, which then packs the items in a small cardboard box and places it in a drone that cruises at 110 km per hour, sends intimation to the doctor’s phone minutes before reaching, drops the box at the designated place outside the hospital using a paper parachute, and flies back to the base to hang from a sling.

“In all healthcare logistics, you’re always trading off waste against access,” says Keller Rinaudo, founder and CEO of Zipline, that started its operations in Rwanda in 2016 and today delivers 65 per cent of blood units in capital Kigali. If you stock a lot of medicines at hospitals, it leads to wastage. So you keep everything centralised. But this makes access to medical products difficult in case of emergencies. Drones can permanently break this cycle, he adds.

Zipline claims that its service has increased the use of blood products by 175 per cent in Rwanda while reducing wastage and spoilage of medical products by 95 per cent. The company has big expansion plans. It will start operations in California, USA, in a few months and is in talks with the governments of South Africa and India.

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