Govt closer to using drones in medical supplies delivery

Zipline Inc, a California-based robotics firm Friday announced details of a partnership with Government to make on-demand deliveries of life-saving medical products using drones.
Minister for ICT Jean-Philbert Nsengimana with one of the drone prototypes. (Julius Bizimungu)
Minister for ICT Jean-Philbert Nsengimana with one of the drone prototypes. (Julius Bizimungu)

Zipline Inc, a California-based robotics firm Friday announced details of a partnership with Government to make on-demand deliveries of life-saving medical products using drones.

This follows a deal signed in February, between the government and the firm to build infrastructure for unmanned aerial system (UAS) to ensure efficient logistical transportation of medical supplies in the country.

Speaking during a press briefing, the Minister for Youth and ICT, Jean-Philbert Nsengimana, said that Rwanda is ready to receive the first delivery of drones.

“We have had a fruitful and a fun-filled week talking about the forth industrial revolution at the World Economic Forum (WEF). I think it’s very significant for people to know that what they might think will be achieved in future, is already here in Rwanda. We already have the technology that people think we will have in the future. Rwanda is ready to receive the network of drones, and I truly believe this is going to shape the future,” Nsengimana noted.

Challenges

Often, essential health products don’t reach the people who urgently need them.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), millions of mothers and children die every year due to conditions that could be prevented or treated with access to simple, and affordable medical interventions.

However, in the developing world, access to these interventions 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.

The distribution of blood products is particularly challenging given the strict temperature requirements and short shelf life. Africa has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the world, mainly due to post partum hemorrhaging, which makes access to lifesaving blood transfusions critically important for women across the continent.

In Rwanda, rural hospitals have struggled with supplies in the past due to their isolated locations. Most life-saving supplies are currently delivered via motorcycles.

According to Dr Agnes Binagwaho, the Minister for Health, the initiative is truly a life-saving technology

“We have established that if we manage to use this technology, it will be a life-saving initiative. There are a lot of advantages, but I’m also hopeful that as pioneers we learn by doing. Although, I can’t predict how many lives will be saved, even saving one life is crucial,” she said.

What Zipline is bringing

According to Keller Rinaudo, Zipline Chief Executive Officer, the company is working with the government of Rwanda to create a network of delivery drones that will ferry medical supplies across the country. The network will have capacity to make 50 to 150 deliveries per day, using a fleet of 15 drones, each with twin electric motors and an almost eight-foot wingspan. The unmanned drones will use GPS to navigate, and will airdrop supplies before returning to the landing strip from which they were launched.

“The inability to deliver life-saving medicines to the people who need them the most causes millions of preventable deaths each year. Zipline will help solve that problem once and for all. We’ve built an instant delivery system for the world, allowing medicines and other products to be delivered on-demand and at a low-cost, anywhere,” said Rinaudo.

Starting July, the government will begin a public-private partnership with Zipline for the last-mile delivery of all blood products throughout the country. A team of Rwandan and American engineers will set up and operate Zipline’s first Hub in Muhanga District. From this Hub, Zipline will deliver life-saving blood to 21 facilities located in the Northern, Western, and Southern Provinces.

Zipline plans to expand services to Eastern Province in early 2017, putting almost every one of Rwanda’s 11 million citizens within range of lifesaving medical product deliveries.

The partnership will strengthen ongoing efforts by the Ministry of Health to deliver a high standard of health care.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

 

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