Drones to improve Rwanda’s access to medical supplies

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A particularly interesting story that caught our attention at Healthshare Health Solutions is this interesting development in the medical world.

A joint partnership between Zipline and the National Centre of Blood Transfusion, Gavi and Rwanda’s Ministry of Health will see drones delivering medical supplies to around 20 health centres in the East African country.

This new delivery system will service the harder to reach areas of Rwanda. Its current medical supply delivery system – described to be a “broken” one – used to employ motorcycles to cover the last stretch of deliveries. This practice, however, proved to be both costly and unreliable.

Zipline’s solution to this pressing issue is a drone capable of speeds of 140 km/h that is equipped with military-grade GPS guided by Rwanda’s cellular networks and can fly in harsh weather conditions and endure heavy winds. The unmanned aircraft’s flight is predetermined and thus fully automatic. Once it reaches its programmed location, it drops the life-saving parcel which then parachutes its way to the recipients below.

Furthermore, the drones can carry up to around 1,6kg, allowing it to transport two standard packets of blood.



“Zipline is designed to allow public healthcare systems to be able to always make a delivery when someone’s in trouble,” says Zipline CEO and Co-founder, Keller Rinaudo.

Zipline is a drone startup with financial backup from industry giants such as Sequoia Capital, GV (former Google Ventures, Stanford University and Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, among others.

The young San Francisco company is reportedly staffed by former aerospace employees from NASA, SpaceX, and Boeing.

While their pilot project will no doubt benefit the Rwanda on a massive scale, it holds much benefit for Zipline too, giving them a soft landing for trial and error.

For now, during phase one, this project will make it possible for the country’s hard-to-reach medical centres to receive blood products that they order via text messaging within 30 minutes maximum.

The next step is to deliver medical supplies such as vaccines, anti-venom, and other medicines. Zipline’s bigger goal is to have multiple national delivery networks on a global scale.

After their testing in Rwanda, this could very well be a possibility, provided that all governments cooperate. The company is currently working on a network of drone airports and anticipate its completion by 2020.

Is this a step in the right direction for the medical industry or is it a venture laced with possible mishaps and limitations? Share your thoughts in the comments field below.

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