I wrote about the plan for drones to carry out medical deliveries in Rwanda back in February and now after getting the infrastructure in place and successful trial runs, the drones are taking to the air to bring aid to the Western part of the country.
Previously, medical aid supplies were delivered by motorbikes that couldn't always navigate the difficult terrain and could take days to get to remote locations. The Rwandan government is partnering with drone company Zipline along with support from UPS, Gavi and the Vaccine Alliance to deliver aid quickly when it's needed.
The initiative is headquartered in the central Muhanga District and has started with blood deliveries and will move into other aid like vaccines and other life-saving medicines in the coming months. The blood deliveries will make a huge difference on their own.
In Rwanda, postpartum hemorrhaging is the leading cause of death for pregnant women, but medical clinics often don't have blood in stock because blood there are many different blood products and no way to predict which ones they'll need. It's also been difficult to get the correct blood bags out to rural areas when needed because the roads are often washed out from the country's long rainy season and blood has to be delivered quickly and maintained at a safe temperature.
Now with the new program, clinics can place emergency blood orders by cell phone text and the distribution center will send one of the 15 drones out for delivery. The drones can fly 150km round trip even in wind and rain and carry 1.5kg of blood, which is enough to save a life. They can make a deliver within about 30 minutes.
The drones will make 50 - 150 emergency flights per day to the 21 transfusion clinics in the Western half of the country. In 2017, the project will expand its deliveries to the Eastern half of the country, meaning all 11 million citizens will have access to blood and medicines quickly when they need it. Rwanda predicts that thousands of lives will be saved in just the first three years.
"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,” said Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo. “We’ve built an instant delivery system for the world, allowing medicine to be delivered on-demand and at low-cost, anywhere.”
UPS, Gavi and the Vaccine Alliance will help with getting the much-needed supplies to the central hub while Zipline takes care of the "last-mile" deliveries. This program will be watched closely to see how drone technology can expand the delivery of medical aid and vaccines to people in countries where road infrastructure has been a huge obstacle. The hope is that all children no matter where they live will one day soon have easy access to life-saving vaccines.
Watch the video below for more information.