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Drones in AfricaThe mission of Zipline, a company started in 2014 and based in San Francisco, is to “provide every human on Earth with instant access to vital medical supplies.” To accomplish this goal, the company has created a drone delivery service where drones in Africa distribute lifesaving medical supplies to remote clinics in Ghana and Rwanda. More recently Zipline has expanded to other locations across the globe, including the U.S.

Poverty in Rwanda and Ghana

Rwanda is a rural East African country that relies heavily on farming. Although the country has made improvements in recent years, the 1994 Rwandan genocide damaged the economy and forced many people into poverty, particularly women. As of 2015, 39% of the population lived below the poverty line and Rwanda was ranked 208th out of 228 countries in terms of GDP per capita. On top of this, Rwanda only has 0.13 physicians per 1,000 people, which is insufficient to meet health care needs according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Ghana, located in West Africa, has fewer economic problems than neighboring countries in the region. However, debt, high costs of electricity and a lack of a stable domestic revenue continue to pose a threat to the economy. The GDP per capita was $4,700 as of 2017, with 24.2% of the population living below the poverty line. Although Ghana has a higher ratio of physicians per 1,000 people than Rwanda, with 0.18 physicians, it still falls below the WHO recommendation of at least 2.3 physicians per 1,000.

Benefits of Drone Delivery Services

On-demand delivery, such as drone delivery services, are typically only available to wealthy nations. However, Zipline evens the playing field by ensuring that those living in poorer and more remote regions also have access to the medical supplies they need. Zipline has made over 37,000 deliveries. In Rwanda, the drones provide deliveries across the country, bypassing the problems of dangerous routes, traffic and vehicle breakdowns, speeding up delivery and therefore minimizing waste. Additionally, Zipline’s drones in Africa do not use gasoline but, instead, on battery power.

Drone Delivery Services and COVID-19

Zipline’s services have been especially crucial during the COVID-19 response. Zipline has partnered with various nonprofit organizations (NGOs) and governments to complement traditional means of delivery of medical supplies on an international scale. This has helped to keep delivery drivers at home and minimize face-to-face interactions. As there are advances in treatments for COVID-19, delivery by drones in Africa has the potential to provide access to the vulnerable populations who are most at risk. At the same time, it can help vulnerable people stay at home by delivering medications directly to them or to nearby clinics, minimizing travel and reducing the chance of exposure. Zipline distribution centers have the capability to make thousands of deliveries a week across 8,000 square miles. Doctors and clinics simply use an app to order the supplies they need, receiving the supplies in 15 to 20 minutes. The drones are equipped for any weather conditions.

New means of providing medical equipment are helping to ensure that the world’s poor have access to the supplies they need. A company called Zipline has been using drones to deliver medical supplies to Africa, specifically in Rwanda and Ghana. During the COVID-19 pandemic, drones have been crucial in providing people and clinics with the medical supplies they need.

Elizabeth Davis
Photo: Flickr

RTS,S VaccineA new vaccine known as the RTS,S vaccine is currently being piloted in the African nations of Ghana, Malawi and Kenya.  The RTS,S vaccine has been in development for over 32 years. It is the first malaria vaccine that has been shown to provide young children with partial protection from malaria.

What is Malaria?

Every single year, the malaria virus kills one million people around the world. It is estimated that 300-600 million people suffer from malaria every year. Additionally, 90 percent of malaria cases occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. The majority of malaria’s victims are children under the age of five.

According to UNICEF, Malaria kills one child every thirty seconds, which is about 3,000 children every single day. Malaria hinders children’s social development and schooling. Furthermore, malaria is a major cause of poverty. For example, the cost of malaria control and treatment actually slows economic development in Africa by 1.3 percent.

RTS,S Malaria Vaccine Pilots

In clinical trials, the RTS,S vaccine was found to prevent about 4 out of 10 malaria cases. Additionally, it proved to prevent 3 in 10 cases of severe, life-threatening malaria. The malaria vaccine has also been shown to reduce severe malaria anemia by 60 percent. Severe malaria anemia is the most prevalent reason that children die from malaria.

The organizations of Unitaid, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria funded and supported these pilots.

Impact

Currently, an estimated 360,000 children are expected to receive the RTS,S vaccine through immunization programs in certain areas of Malawi, Ghana and Kenya. However, the main weakness of the immunization programs is in how they store and transport the vaccines. The effectiveness of a vaccine is dependent on whether it is in a properly-functioning cold chain. This refers to a system of transporting and storing vaccines at the proper temperatures from when they are manufactured to when they are used.

To ensure that vaccines properly fulfill their duty of vaccinating children from malaria, there needs to be an increased focus on the protection and storage of these vaccines in their proper cold chains. It is vital to invest in proper storage equipment and maintenance of that storage equipment. This equipment will retain the vaccine’s efficacy. It is also crucial to invest in roads and infrastructure so the vaccines can be properly transported to those in need.

Innovation

A technological innovation that has changed and improved the transportation of malaria vaccines is the use of drones. The Rwandan tech firm Zipline has already launched drones that are used to transport medication, vaccines, blood and other essential health care items.

Starting out in Rwanda, the firm has also expanded its lifesaving services into Ghana. The drones fly at 100 kilometers and are able to make deliveries in 30 minutes that otherwise could take five hours by car. The drones also are able to fly through any type of terrain. Therefore, they can easily reach remote villages without requiring any sort of local infrastructure at the scene. ZipLine is able to make up to 500 delivers a day. Thanks to its services, ZipLine has provided 13 million people instant access to urgent, life-saving treatments.

The RTS,S vaccine is an effective vaccine that is vital in protecting young children from malaria. By drastically reducing cases of severe malaria anemia, the RTS,S vaccine is saving lives. To continue saving lives and to further build the efficacy of the vaccine, it is crucial to focus on investing in the proper infrastructure for storage and transportation of the vaccine.

– Nicholas Bykov
Photo: Flickr

drones can save livesThird-world development programs use drones to advance projects more quickly and with fewer expenses. Pilots can volunteer for projects that provide humanitarian aid to remote areas, such as delivering medicine, blood, specimens for lab testing, vaccines and anti-venom. A skilled drone pilot can provide support across the globe to help people in need. Drone pilots can support relief efforts after major natural disasters, and civilian drone pilots (who have the proper authorization) can work with officials in search and rescue missions, provide aerial photography data to help find lost persons, map out disaster areas and help assess damage to an area. Here’s how a drone pilot can use their skills to help save lives around the world.

Four Ways Drone Pilots Can Save Lives

  1. Volunteer Organizations: One of the most well-established humanitarian drone pilot associations is the UAV Aviators Organization founded by Dr. Patrick Meier. This group has more than 3,300 members worldwide and represents 120 countries. Of those members, more than 600 are drone pilots. A drone pilot can find out about volunteer opportunities by registering with the Humanitarian UAV Network and agreeing to the UAV Humanitarian Code of Conduct. There is no cost to join this association. Another volunteer organization is S.W.A.R.M. More than 7,500 SAR pilots volunteer with this organization, serving more than 40 countries. It has an active Facebook group with more than 4,400 members. 
  2. Third-World Development Projects: The World Bank reports there are many benefits when using drones for development projects in third-world nations. Some benefits include easier planning, faster project implementation, less risk to local workers and communities, lower operational costs and surveying before access infrastructure is built in remote areas. The World Bank seeks drone pilots as volunteers and interns for drone flying projects to work in land use administration, forest management, coastal zone protection and environmental risk assessment. Drone pilots can help with medical deliveries, firefighting, contamination sensing and weather prediction. They can also help with guarding endangered animals and natural resource conservation.In 2016, the World Bank executed a drone project to conduct mapping in Kosovo. This mapping occurred after the Balkan wars ended in the late 1990s. The $13.86 million Real Estate and Cadastre Project was operated by the Global Land and Geospatial Unit of the World Bank. Women from Kosovo, who lost their husbands and sons in the wars, worked alone or with other women to rebuild their homes. The wars made it impossible to prove the land was theirs because all the documentation was lost. Without the ability to prove ownership, they could not work the farmland or get loans from the bank. These women had no ability to pay for traditional surveyors. Surveying the land through the use of drones helped them register their rightful ownership to their family’s land.
  3. Disaster Relief With Search and Rescue: Coordinated efforts with local authorities create the most beneficial effects. It is important for pilots to avoid any unintentional consequences of drone deployments in disaster zones, which might interfere with official rescue and relief efforts. Following Typhoon Yolanda, which hit the Philippines in 2013, four key drones were launched by different local and international groups to support the relief efforts. They were used to discover safe and effective areas for NGOs to set up camp, identify passable roads, assess the damage from the storm surge and flooding and determine which villages were most affected by the typhoon. Drone surveillance determined some of the most affected areas, and the data was given to different humanitarian organizations to aid the relief efforts. In Dulag, aerial imagery was used to determine which areas had the greatest need for new shelters. This allowed Medair, a Swiss humanitarian organization, to identify how much material was needed and better allocate their resources to help people as quickly as possible.
  4. Vaccine and Medical Supplies Delivery: In December 2018, a drone delivery brought a life-saving vaccine to a remote part of the island of Vanuatu in the South Pacific near Australia. With funding for the humanitarian project supported by UNICEF and the government of Australia, volunteers working with a company called Swoop Aero were able to deliver vaccines through 25 miles of rough mountainous terrain. Drone use helped the vaccines maintain the proper temperature due to the speed available through drone transport and delivered them and other critical medical supplies to remote areas.In Africa, UNICEF funds a company called Zipline. The staff of volunteers delivers vaccines and other medical supplies by using drones. The deliveries have been made to remote villages in the countries of Rwanda and Ghana since 2016. UNICEF sponsors other projects of a similar kind in Malawi and Papua New Guinea. It may take days to reach these remote villages by car or on foot. A drone can fly to them in minutes and land in a small jungle clearing a plane or helicopter could not use. UNICEF also sponsors programs that use drones to transport specimens from remote locations back to laboratories for testing. This helps health care practitioners make the correct diagnosis and administer life-saving treatment to patients quickly.

Drone pilots have plenty of ways to use their skills to help fight poverty and get involved in global relief efforts. Pilots are encouraged to volunteer to help out locally and/or internationally. As Dr. Peter Meir says, “The best use of a drone is to save a life.”

Mark Sheehan
Photo: Unsplash

https://www.flickr.com/photos/magnumppi/38484906775/in/photolist-21CMcZr-TgU1uE-RxNWbP-gkdW7q-sa5LVn-dJzokZ-pabckr-Vh1U5g-UhZrX6-TfWdoR-ei1iWe-RmwaAU-TBJyTd-c44j6Q-qtGCL6-oWuA2x-qwPvqS-U964us-SY4Nu4-22C8TUw-rjM2aJ-h1bHnB-9s88dG-ebeTs9-9zb6Wc-rn4NyK-PU85gp-qKaLku-jEhYAf-fh1RhG-LY5Rwc-9zBnJC-h9ZxJp-pi9TMR-WbAs4Y-cobF47-UQHaoK-21k3RP2-7Gj4Ap-owwBnd-Pvspiw-GtcC1T-X7fCmZ-RutCcq-QQaakB-YvVZwZ-paQKEd-DCurLt-KYdLi5-Y4V1qtDrones oftentimes conjure images of airstrikes, collateral damage, unmanned surveillance or indiscriminate killing machines controlled remotely. But what if the focus was on how life-saving drones could drop medical supplies in far-flung locations? How can the reaction shift to the ways emergency supplies can be airdropped into some of the world’s most unnavigable locations in a matter of minutes? Enter Zipline.

Insufficient Roads

Zipline is a San Francisco-based company revolutionizing the way urgent medical supplies are being delivered in Rwanda. Known as the land of a thousand hills, Rwanda is one of the continent’s smallest countries with a population of almost 12 million people. Despite its size, Rwanda’s poorly-paved roads, seasonal flooding and impassable mountains make it tremendously difficult to travel extensively and efficiently.

Rwanda’s small population and lack of easily-accessible roads make the country a suitable candidate for these life-saving drones. Rough terrain and road mobility are in fact one of the main reasons why approximately two billion people in rural Africa do not have sufficient access to vital medical supplies, according to the World Health Organization.

Keller Rinaudo, CEO of Zipline, has devised a way to improve access to urgent supplies by using drones that fly over the country’s rough terrain and deliver goods to remote locations. Affordable and efficient, Zipline accomplishes in less than an hour what would have traditionally taken a day. Each individual drone, known as a “zip,” has a 6-foot wingspan, can reach top speeds of 70 mph and can carry up to 1.5 kilograms of blood on a single flight. Between October 2016 and August 2017, Zipline completed “1,400 commercial flights and delivered 2,600 units of blood, a quarter of which were for emergency services.”

Expansion

Zipline is expanding further into Africa, beginning delivery services in Tanzania and launching pilot projects elsewhere in Haiti and Papua New Guinea. Beginning in early 2018, the Tanzanian government has expressed its goal of completing 2,000 daily deliveries and establishing the world’s most expansive drone delivery service.

Zipline is also having an impact in Europe. Its life-saving drones have begun delivering supplies between two hospitals in Lugano, Switzerland, with the hope of further expansion in Zurich and Bern.

Accessibility

Professionals using Zipline can order supplies from their mobile phones and can receive their order within 30 minutes. During this time, the Zipline delivery system follows five simple steps:

  1. Zipline receives a text message—or a WhatsApp—by a health worker far away for a medical product they need right away.
  2. Zipline retrieves the product from its distribution center and prepares for take-off.
  3. Within minutes, a confirmation message is sent to the health worker to let them know their order is on its way.
  4. Pilotless, the drone delivers the products gently by parachute at a faster rate than any other mode of transportation. Hospital employees are notified of the delivery via SMS.
  5. The drone returns safely to the distribution center before departing again for its next delivery.

In a 2016 interview with the BBC, Rinaudo explained that flying these life-saving drones is less expensive than the previous delivery method: motorcycles and trucks.

The use of Zipline’s life-saving drones will hopefully continue to expand in providing essential Amazon-esque packages to remote places around the globe.

– Johnny Harounoff

Photo: Flickr

Zipline Drones

The California-based company Zipline, which designs and operates drone delivery networks, will start delivering medical tools and vaccines via drones to Tanzanian clinics in 2018.

The East African country has 0.03 doctors per 1,000 people and 5,640 public health facilities for a population of over 56 million. Blood transfusions and treatments for deadly diseases like HIV are hard to come by. In 2014, the CEO of Zipline drones, Keller Rinaudo, noticed this harsh reality as he browsed a database of health emergencies. The database would collect real-time data about patients who were suffering in different regions of the country, but people would not receive aid based on this information. Rinaudo, as he states in an interview with NPR, imagined “the other half of that system — where you know a patient is having a medical emergency and can immediately send the product needed to save that person’s life.”

The ‘other half of this system’ will start in January 2018, as per a statement from the Tanzanian government. Drones will be used for on-demand delivery of vaccines, blood transfusion materials and other medication or medical tools.

A drone medical delivery system is already up and running in Rwanda, with overwhelmingly positive results and stories. Tanzania hopes for an even larger system, where 120 drones will make 2,000 deliveries a day from four distribution centers spread across the country.

Zipline has hired locals to operate both the drones and distribution centers. When a hospital or clinic requests an item, a worker will stock the products into a shoebox-like container and pack the drone, which would zip to the hospital and deliver the products by parachute. This process takes what could be an eight-hour process and cuts it down to under a half hour.

The medical future is bright for rural and impoverished communities like those in Tanzania with the help of drones. Studies have found that blood samples and lab results were safely transported between medical facilities without any change in result, except for the time they took to be transported.

Rinaudo sees the system as a win not only for his Zipline drones company, Rwanda, or Tanzania, but for medical communities across the globe. In the same interview with NPR, he says that operation teams are “phenomenally smart, ambitious and driven. They work 12 hours a day, seven days a week. They will do anything to save human lives…Rwanda showed what’s possible when you make a national commitment to expand healthcare access with drones.”

Gabriella Paez

Photo: Flickr