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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

Drone Delivery Service in Ghana
After Zipline,  a California-based automated logistics company launched its service in Rwanda three years ago, it announced on April 24, 2019 that it would expand its operations to Ghana. Since Zipline has planned to make 600 drone flights a day and deliver more than 170 vaccines, blood products and other life-saving medications to 2,500 facilities, it expects to reach 12 million people. Because this operation is so immense, Zipline is describing its drone delivery service in Ghana as the largest drone delivery service in history.

The Background of Zipline

Zipline’s mission is to provide every human on Earth with instant access to vital medical supplies with small drone aircraft. To accomplish this mission in countries with citizens who struggle to access the medical supplies they need, Zipline operates autonomous systems for delivering lifesaving medicine to the world’s most inaccessible regions.

Zipline began its first drone service in Africa in the country of Rwanda. This service, which began in 2016, provided life-saving medical supplies to Rwandan citizens in remote areas in minutes. Ever since 2016, Zipline has refined this drone delivery system and the Rwandan government has expanded it across the country. Currently, Zipline has made over 13,000 deliveries outside Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. A third of these deliveries have been in emergencies in which someone’s life was on the line.

Zipline in Ghana

The President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, launched the world’s largest medical drone delivery service during an inaugural ceremony in the city of Omenako, which is also one of the four Zipline drone distribution centers in Ghana. This drone delivery service in Ghana operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Each center is equipped with 30 drones and delivers to 2,500 facilities, serving 12 million people across the country. Some of the treatments that Zipline provides to Ghanaians in remote areas are vaccines for polio, tetanus and diptheria, and the World Health Organization’s Expanded Project on Immunization provides these. Health workers can place an order by text message and they can receive delivery of these and other treatments by parachute within 30 minutes.

The drone network will integrate into Ghana’s national health care supply chain. The plan is to prevent vaccine stockouts in health facilities and during national immunization campaigns. Zipline will manage the logistics of this network through its hardware and software systems in each of the four distribution centers, and it will make deliveries to hospitals and health clinics. In collaboration with Zipline and in consultation with Gavi, UPS will provide consultancy services and technical guidance when necessary.

Looking Ahead

Many expect that the commercial partnerships Zipline has with Ghana and Rwanda will save tens of thousands of lives over the next several years. Ghana will be the base for training future flight operators who will join Zipline as it expands its operations to countries beyond Ghana and Rwanda. Officials from Senegal and Nigeria plan to launch a similar service in their own countries. Throughout this year, Zipline is working hard to expand its drone delivery service to developed and developing countries across Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Americas. Zipline’s drone delivery service in Ghana is another innovative step the world is making to liberate men, women and children from the effects of poverty throughout the world.

– Jacob Stubbs
Photo: Wikipedia