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Technology in Ghana
Ghana has been the hub for technology production in sub-Saharan Africa for decades. In terms of recent technology progression, Ghana stands out for its IT programs, sustainability training and more. Accra is one of the metropolitan cities in the country, known for its technological innovations. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Accra has been working tirelessly to safely and efficiently produce technology that provides aid to sub-Saharan Africa. Here are six facts about technology in Ghana during the COVID-19 pandemic.

6 Facts About Technology in Ghana

  1. The Ministry of Health established a partnership with Zipline, a U.S. company that delivers medical supplies using drones. Zipline is distributing supplies and test kits to 1,000 medical facilities across the country. The company loads the drones with tests and return packets to go back for testing. This has helped Ghana complete 68,000 tests during the lockdown and distribute more supplies as the virus has spread.
  2. Cognate System, a software company, is tracking cases of COVID-19 throughout Ghana. Cognate System uses a platform called Opine Health Assistant (OHA), a phone app that people use to report and record their symptoms. Once someone tests positive, they can use the platform to report their symptoms and determine when they are COVID-free. The application asks questions like where the user has traveled recently and whether they are in need of food, shelter or water. After the lockdown, OHA tracked and recorded approximately 3,000 cases.
  3. As the COVID-19 virus spread through Africa, hospitals began to fill up and medical personnel quickly realized they did not have adequate supplies to prevent further spread of the disease. Ultra Red Technologies (URT), a 3D printing company in Nairobi, got to work immediately to help. The company printed out plastic face shields to send to Ghananian medical staff to help them protect themselves while tending to patients. Mehul Shah, at the URT, wanted to do his part and find a way to help without needing to import products. His work represents the benefits that technology in Ghana has had on the country’s coronavirus response.
  4. Fablab, an innovation hub in Kenya, has been developing tracing applications. The applications track positive patients on public transport to determine who experienced exposure to the virus. If users are in a taxi, for example, they could scan the code onto the application to mark the vehicle as exposed. If everyone uses the application properly, it could trace the positive patient and notify others who may have had exposure to the virus.
  5. The Academic City College in Accra worked alongside the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, located in Kumasi, to build a ventilator that takes merely an hour to assemble and costs only $500 to $1,000. This effort resulted from students who noted that most oxygen bags required hand-pumping to keep patients breathing. The low-cost ventilators use a wooden box with pipes and electrical programming that push oxygen into the patient’s mask, eliminating the need for hand-pumping. Ventilators are quite difficult to distribute as they are expensive to build and maintain, even in wealthy nations. Lowering the cost and production of ventilators can save the lives of millions of COVID-19 patients.
  6. Ghana has been able to test 100,000 people through drone testing. This has likely contributed to the country’s relatively low death toll, which rests only at 486, or 18% of the 2,700 positive cases recorded. Each death has been due to previous underlying conditions that prevented patients from fighting off the novel coronavirus.

Technology in Ghana during the COVID-19 pandemic relies on the good use of resources and accounting for cost and efforts. During the pandemic, Ghana and its neighboring nations have stepped up to the plate to prevent further spread and manage cases so that citizens can get back to work soon. Since March 2020, Ghana has cut down on costs for ventilators while reducing importation needs and sustaining the current quality of production. The sooner the case numbers fall, the sooner citizens and students of Accra can get back to working on more technology to sustain and grow the region. Technology in Ghana has only progressed during the COVID-19 era, and is working toward helping the nation get rid of the virus.

– Kim Elsey
Photo: Flickr

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

Technological Advancements in Africa
Technology
plays an important role in a nation’s modernization. Through health, communication and economical advances, all nations benefit from the inclusion of tech. The world’s leading nations are also synonymous with technological innovations, emphasizing the effect and power of focusing on technological integration with society. Promoting technological advancements in Africa has benefitted them greatly. 

Looking at the Numbers

Africa has seen a dramatic spike in mobile phone users from 330,000 in 2001 to 30 million users in 2013. However, the first piece of technology that has made a large impact and that one can consider a mark of technological advancement in Africa is the internet. In 2014, Africa Renewal, a United Nations magazine, concluded that the main issue in technological penetration of Africa would be in the rural South African regions outside of the scope of major cities.

However, the data that Pew Research showed that in six African countries, South Africa, Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania, internet usage increased by 2 to 16 percent from 2013 to 2017, leaving South Africa the highest at 59 percent. This data shows that even if the median percentage usage, 41 percent, is not nearly as high as more developed nations like the U.S.’s 89 percent, sub-Saharan countries are still increasing in internet usage.

Pew Research has shown that younger people are the ones utilizing the internet more. From Tanzania to South Africa, 34 to 75 percent of people aged 18-29 utilize the internet. This group of users is breathing life into technological advancements.

One such case is Peter Kariuki, a Kenyan native, who recognized the growing issue of road accidents in Africa. Road accidents are now the eighth leading cause of death in all of Africa, at 1.35 million deaths in 2016, beating tuberculosis. Peter Kariuki has created CanGo (formerly SafeMoto), a ride-sharing app that links a user with a safe and experienced motorcyclist in the hopes of lowering the rate of traffic accidents 

CareAI

Outside influence has trickled into Africa. One such influence comes in the form of the European Commission and CareAI. CareAI is a computing system that can diagnose diseases anonymously using blockchain. Blockchain is a decentralized growing list of records or blocks that cryptography links.

Malaria, typhoid fever and tuberculosis are some types of diseases that CareAI can test and identify and can do so in an anonymous manner. This anonymity allows migrants, minorities and those without health care to receive the diagnosis without the fear of others outing or persecuting them. The next step after the diagnosis is for CareAI to prescribe an individual with a prescription through an NGO, a nonprofit organization that operates independently of any government or even an NGO doctor. 

M-Pesa

Technological advancements in Africa have helped regions connect via the internet and mobile devices. Widespread use of the platform has increased communication and facilitated technical improvements that improve internet connections.

An offshoot of this connectivity has brought an age of innovation, such as the app M-Pesa which acts as a digital wallet that allows for remote withdrawals without having to visit a bank. With this increased acceptance of technology in Africa, outside organizations have begun to invest in helping Africa, such as U.S. company Zipline. Zipline’s partnership with Rwanda delivers blood and plasma via drones. Technology has aided Africa’s ascent to modernization and will keep improving as long as innovation exists.

With health care innovation, Africa can easily provide medical attention to those living in remote areas. The increasing connectivity of African society benefits not only the welfare of the nation but computer media connections. Outside of health care, technological advancement in Africa has improved manners of access to finances, ridesharing and social media. Africa has taken a step in the right direction in focusing on technological improvements, and people can provide assistance through the African Technology Foundation with its mentorship or partnership programs that focus on providing the education and resources necessary for technological advancements in Africa.

– Richard Zamora
Photo: Flickr

Improving Ghana's Local Health
Ghana is a small West African country located on the Gulf of Guinea. Agricultural and mineral outputs mostly make up the country’s income. Ghana was the first African state to gain independence in 1957 and has a population of approximately 28,102,471 people. Although Ghana is one of the more stable countries in Africa and has one of the lowest reported HIV infection rates, the country still faces a multitude of health care issues. However, there has recently been a partnership between the Ghanian government and a tech company to work towards improving Ghana’s local health.

Illnesses in Ghana

A variety of illnesses in Ghana are similar to those occurring in developed countries, however, some of these illnesses can be more potent in areas like Ghana. These illnesses include trauma, women’s health issues, pregnancy complications and infections. HIV/AIDS hit Ghana slightly less than other African countries, but it still caused the deaths of 10,300 people in 2012. HIV/AIDS now stands at number six on the list of the top 10 causes of death in Ghana after malaria, lower respiratory infections, neonatal disorders, ischemic heart disease and stroke.

The anopheles mosquito can transfer malaria, but people can also transmit the illness through organ transplants, shared needles or blood transfusions. Malaria most commonly affects pregnant women and children. In 2012, malaria caused the deaths of 8.3 percent of the Ghanian population. It was also the leading cause of death among children under 5, dealing fatal damage to 20 percent of children in that age group. One of the primary reasons for visits to the hospital is infections. Medical professionals can easily treat most malaria cases with three days of pills from the government, however, some may suffer repeated bouts of malaria and it can be fatal is they do not receive treatment.

Ghana’s Medical Drone Delivery Program

In April 2019, Quartz Africa detailed that a community health nurse at the New Tafo Government Hospital in Ghana’s Eastern Region, Gladys Dede Tetteh, ran out of yellow fever vaccines. Mothers and their babies had to wait in a long line in the hot weather. The facility made an order for more vaccines, but in the past, deliveries often took two hours or more to arrive by road from the central medical stores. However, 21 minutes later, from 80 meters in the sky, a drone released a box onto a small lawn quad in the hospital. New Tafo Government Hospital was the first to sign up for Ghana’s new medical drone delivery program to receive medical products from unmanned aerial vehicles. The aim of this program is to reach hard-to-reach communities quickly and efficiently.

The Ghana Health Service’s Partnership with Zipline

The Ghana Health Service recently began a partnership with Zipline, a drone company with the mission of giving every person instantaneous access to medical supplies. Ghana’s Vice President, Mahamudu Bawumia, officially launched the medical drone program on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. Zipline is a partner of the United Parcel Service (UPS), which also provided support when it opened its Rwanda program. Zipline also gained support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Pfizer. Zipline’s Omenako center in Ghana is the first of four centers that the company plans to construct by the end of 2019. Zipline also plans to provide supplies to 2,000 health care facilities in order to serve 12 million Ghanaians once it completes all four centers.

Each distribution center will have 30 drones that will work together to make 500 deliveries a day. Zipline approximates that it will be able to make 600 delivery flights a day in total. Many claim that the drones are some of the fastest delivery drones in the world. The drones can fly up to 75 mph, transport around four pounds, fly as high as 99 miles and operate in various types of weather and altitudes.

Zipline’s Role in Reducing Deaths and Providing Vaccinations

The World Health Organization states that “severe bleeding during delivery or after childbirth is the commonest cause of maternal mortality and contributes to around 34% of maternal deaths in Africa.” Ghana’s policymakers expressed that they believe that this new drone delivery system is the first step to improving Ghana’s local health by decreasing maternal and infant mortality rates.

The drones will deliver to 500 health facilities from the Omanako center which has vaccines and medications. With the aid of Ghana’s Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), Zipline drones will be able to provide support to those suffering from yellow fever, polio, measles & rubella, meningitis, pneumococcal, diphtheria, tetanus and more. Gavi provides the vaccines, which is an international organization with the intention of improving children’s access to vaccines in poor parts of the world. Drones will be able to pass where ground vehicles cannot, such as where there is underdeveloped or poorly maintained road infrastructure. Many also expect that the drone delivery program will reduce wastage of medical products and oversupplied hospitals.

Zipline aims to improve access to vital medical supplies, which in turn will hopefully reduce mortality rates and add to efforts in improving Ghana’s local health. Zipline’s mission in Ghana has only just begun, but so far it has been able to significantly reduce the time it takes to deliver important health supplies. Getting medical supplies and vaccines faster may be able to save a few lives in the future as well. Health issues and diseases like malaria continue to be the major causes of death in Ghana, but Zipline and the Ghanian government are making steps towards improving access to health care.

– Jade Thompson
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

Drones Bringing Vaccinations

Over the past few decades, Ghana has been able to drastically improve its vaccination rates through education and communication with communities. Right now, vaccination rates for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough are at 98 percent in Ghana, compared to 94 percent in the U.S. The child mortality rate in Ghana has dropped by 30 percent and is now at 5 percent.

Additionally, measles, which used to be one of the predominant causes of child mortality in Ghana, has now been nearly eradicated. This is due in part to the double-roll out in 2012, which was the first time any African country introduced two vaccines at the same time, the pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines. It proved to be wildly successful, reinforcing Ghana as a model for neighboring countries.

Despite these improvements, one of the main roadblocks to increasing the coverage and effectiveness of vaccines in Ghana is accessibility. One promising solution to this roadblock is drones bringing vaccinations to Ghana.

Drones Bringing Vaccinations to Ghana

Planning to reach the remaining unvaccinated Ghanaians, the Ghanaian government recently launched the start of its partnership with Zipline, a company utilizing drones to deliver medical supplies to underserved regions. The technology increases the accessibility of essential medical supplies without having to wait for the costly infrastructure development of better roads and train access. Zipline is currently able to provide 13 million people vital medicine incredibly quickly. At the four distribution centers located throughout Ghana, doctors can place an order via text for any necessary medications and reliably expect a delivery within 30 minutes.

In addition, one of the primary challenges in increasing vaccination coverage is access to electricity for refrigeration. Zipline’s quick and reliable delivery system solves this issue as supplies are received still cold. This innovative battery powered medical delivery system is able to deliver goods pilotless, thus reducing emissions costs and medicine transport costs. This makes it an incredibly cost-effective mode of transport, aiding initiatives to offer free vaccinations to children in Ghana.

With dozens of hospitals relying on Zipline for emergency medicinal deliveries, access to life-saving medical supplies has already increased dramatically in hard to reach areas. In Rwanda, where Zipline has served for the past 3 years, maternal mortality rates are dropping drastically due to emergency drone deliveries of rare blood types.

Just a few decades ago, Ghanaians were in a statistically alarming situation. The introduction of Zipline is bringing medical supplies to Ghanaians who still lack access. With plans to eventually provide access to vital medical supplies all around the world, Zipline appears to be revolutionizing the world of medicinal accessibility for the world’s underdeveloped regions. As Zipline is a relatively new company, it’s too soon to have data determining long term impacts. However, given the rapid changes Zipline has brought to Ghana and Rwanda’s medical access already, it’s feasible to imagine a future where drones bringing vaccinations is commonplace.

– Amy Dickens
Photo: Flickr

Vaccines for Vanuatu
In December of 2018, Vanuatu made headlines as the first nation to receive a vaccination delivered by a drone. Vanuatu is a remote island off the coast of Australia, directly west of Fiji, made up of more than 70 smaller islands. After winning their independence from Britain and France in 1980, many of the islanders maintain their traditional Melanesian culture and lifestyle with an economy revolving around fishing, agriculture and tourism.

Vaccines to Vanuatu

Most villages scattered across Vanuatu are only accessible by boat or mountain footpath, which makes it difficult to deliver vaccines in a timely and safe manner. Vaccines must be kept at precise temperatures, which the warm, wet climate of Vanuatu makes especially difficult. However, technology is making healthcare possible, even on the small island of Vanuatu.

An Australian-based drone company, Swoop Aero, is working to deliver vaccines to Vanuatu. This is the first time the Vanuatu government, or any government for that matter, has contracted a drone company. Funded by UNICEF and the Australian government, Swoop Aero’s mission is to provide networks of autonomous drones to transport medical supplies, on-demand, to the people who need them most. Currently, 85 percent of the world has access to vaccines; if used correctly, drones will increase this figure to 95 percent vaccine coverage worldwide.

Success at Cook’s Bay

Also in December, Swoop Aero held their first trial run to a small village in Vanuatu called Cook’s Bay.  Their drone traveled 25 miles to deliver hepatitis and tuberculosis (TB) vaccines to a one-month-old baby named Joy Nowai. She became the first person ever to receive vaccines from a drone. Almost 20 percent of children in Vanuatu under 5-years-old lack access to life-saving vaccines, but after a successful trial flight by Swoop Aero, drones will continue to bring vaccines to Vanuatu.

Here are some other ways drones are helping to improve healthcare:

  • A U.S. drone company called Zipline currently delivers blood and other medical supplies to doctors in Ghana and Rwanda. Zipline is planning to start delivering vaccines, specifically rabies vaccines, to Ghana and Rwanda in 2019.
  • UNICEF is running a humanitarian drone test corridor in Malawi. After being tested, these drones will be able to transport blood samples between hospitals to speed up HIV diagnoses, especially in infants, and deliver other humanitarian and medical supplies to doctors.
  • Drones are speeding up tuberculosis (TB) testing in Papua New Guinea. Fast diagnoses are essential to curing TB, and in Papua New Guinea, a country with dense jungles and rough roads; this is especially difficult to manage. Drones quickly transport diagnostic samples from remote health centers to hospitals and laboratories, allowing for a quick diagnosis and treatment for the patient.

Increasing Access to Healthcare, One Drone at a Time

In this new age of technology, drones are providing unprecedented levels of access to medical supplies, including vaccines, lab testing and blood samples. After a successful trial run delivering vaccines to Vanuatu, Swoop Aero, UNICEF and other drone companies like Zipline are looking forward to a time when 100 percent of people will have access to medical supplies and healthcare.

– Natalie Dell
Photo: Pixabay


On October 14, 2016, an 18-second video of what looks to be a model airplane buzzes overhead against a sky slowly turning to dusk. A small red box ejects out of the back and begins a descent by paper parachute before landing at the front steps of a building in Rwanda’s Muhanga District. California-based company Zipline had just made its first delivery of blood by drone to improve health in Rwanda.

That day marked the beginning of Rwanda’s national drone delivery program which, over the next three years, is anticipated to save thousands of lives and drastically improve health in Rwanda.

The endeavor is a partnership between Zipline, the Rwandan government, the United Parcel Service (UPS) and Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance. The ultimate goal is to improve the quality of health in Rwanda by delivering important medical supplies to remote locations quickly. This partnership currently maintains a fleet of 15 drones, referred to as “Zips,” that are all designed, manufactured, operated and launched by the company itself. Zips have the capability to fly round trips of up to 150 km while carrying 1.5 kg of blood — despite windy and rainy weather conditions. Orders are placed by text messages. They are then received by the distribution center and sent out to be delivered via Zips launched from slingshot-style catapults. When the delivery is complete, the Zips simply return to their original locations without having to land at the drop site.

Chief Executive Officer Keller Rinaudo touts the company as a solution to the last-mile problem, which is when supplies are unable to be delivered from the city to more remote and rural locations. The reasons for the last-mile problem vary, but they usually involve a lack of adequate transportation for the rural poor. In addition, washed-out roads or difficult terrain like hills and valleys make it difficult to construct reliable roadways. Improving health in Rwanda has been slow due to these factors. In the medical field, the failure to connect a supplier to the end-users can be fatal.

In a November 2016 interview with Code Mobile, Rinaudo said, “When you need blood, you really need it. Your life is on the line and minutes are the difference between life and death. The challenge with blood is that it expires quickly. You have all different types, you don’t know what you’re going to need before you actually have a patient dying. What was happening was that…they have a patient that is dying, the doctor gets into a car, drives to a blood bank and drives four hours back. Obviously at that point usually the patient is either stable or dead.”

Approximately half of the blood that is currently delivered by road ends up being used for transfusions to women giving birth. When blood can be delivered quickly, doctors have access to more life-saving options for their emergency patients. In one case, a Zip only took five minutes to deliver a package of blood over a span of 33 miles.

For the beginning of the 2017 year, the plan is to expand Zipline into the Eastern half of Rwanda. This will keep their staff of skilled engineers, who have previously worked at organizations like Space X, NASA, Lockheed Martin and Google, incredibly busy. Justin Hamilton, the official spokesman for the company, described the future ambitions of the company: “There is a palpable sense of the promise this technology holds to save lives in the communities we serve. We look forward to expanding our efforts to serve the eastern half of Rwanda this year before expanding across Africa and the world.”

For Zipline, health in Rwanda is something that can be addressed with a talented staff and just a few catapults.

Tammy Hineline

Photo: Flickr

Drones Helping the Sick in Costa Rica
Drones delivering medicine could be a solution for people living in the remote areas of Costa Rica. The indigenous people in these areas are far away from medical facilities and pharmacies. Trekking back and forth from their homes to cities to get medical supplies is a very difficult and time-consuming process. Therefore, many do not get the medicine they need.

As an initiative of Costa Rica’s Social Security System (CAJA), drones will deliver medication to eight indigenous communities in the province of Limón. To launch the program, CAJA has teamed up with the company Zipline.

Zipline, with the tagline, “No Roads, No Problems!” manufactures small robot airplanes called “Zips,” which can carry vaccines, medicine and blood to wherever they are needed. The startup estimates that “two billion people lack adequate access to essential medical products, often due to challenging terrain and gaps in infrastructure.” Zipline offers a simple way to deliver prescriptions to people living in rural regions especially in underdeveloped countries. Zipline is already in use in Rwanda, delivering blood and plasma to hospitals in rural areas. These drones make 50 to 150 deliveries per day.

The Zipline method is easy. After a doctor inputs the prescription into CAJA’s Digital Health Records system, a pharmacist at a local clinic prepares the medication, secures it in a container and places it inside the drone. Now, the Zip can begin its flight to the patient’s home. Once the medicine has been safely parachuted to the destination, the doctor is alerted in order to keep track of who has received medication.

The drones delivering medicine only weigh about 22 pounds. They are equipped with a GPS for location accuracy. Clinical workers can also ensure that the drones are following the correct route. The drones usually travel 62 miles per hour, but can go faster if needed. At such a rate, medication reaches its destination in approximately 45 minutes. As compared to the usual three-day process of getting medication to patients, the drones are cutting the time down dramatically.

In 2017, Zips will deliver approximately 13,200 packages a month, which will cost the Costa Rican government $26,000. This is much cheaper and more effective than alternatives tried in the past, including bicycles, motorcycles and boats. Land transportation methods have had issues because remote areas rarely have paved roads.

If drones delivering medicine are successful in Limón, the program, or one like it, may expand to other communities in need and possibly other countries that face similar issues.

Karla Umanzor

Photo: Flickr

Drones for Healthcare
The Rwandan government’s recent initiative to use drones for health care, delivering critical blood parcels on parachutes outside remote health centers, is a huge step forward in the use of this pioneering technology in crisis-hit areas.

As part of the program, which was kicked off last week, medical workers in health centers across the western parts of the country where the terrain makes road trips long and complicated, send requests for life-saving blood using text messages.

Using commercial drones, these packets containing the required blood are then delivered to 21 transfusing facilities in about 30 minutes, shaving off hours it would have taken using the traditional road routes. This is one more successful effort by the government to decrease the rate of maternal mortality, which stands today at 320 deaths per 100,000 live births. One of the main causes of maternal mortality is the loss of blood during and following childbirth.

While the Rwandan government is the primary driver of this program, the drones and delivery service are built and being operated by Zipline, a California-based robotics company. Rwanda’s successful experiment can be extended to many other areas of critical-care as well as outside that country.

While the current drone delivery service is focusing on blood deliveries, an international partnership between logistics giant UPS, the Vaccine Alliance, Gavi (a public-private group started by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) and Zipline are working on doing the same with vaccines.

It is easy to see how this breakthrough service can be extended to other parts of the developing world where access to lifesaving and critical health products suffers from what is termed the “last-mile problem,” which is the failure to extend medicines to remote locations which suffer from poor roads and transportation infrastructure. The set of drones, called Zips, being used in Rwanda can fly up to 150 kilometers, which should be enough in most cases to address the problem of reaching remote areas rapidly in emergencies.

Considering the situation in battle-scarred areas like Syria or Iraq, where both the terrain and the constant fighting turn civilian areas into no-fly zones, drones may well be the only solution to supply medicines, food and water to under-siege populations. Initial efforts to do that have already begun and are showing results.

Since last year, Uplift Aeronautics and the Syria Airlift Project have been flying prototype drones over the border from neighboring country on missions chosen by aid partners such as People Demand Change. Given their small size, each of these drones can carry only a few pounds of supplies which ensure they can’t be tracked by radars.

While this initiative has since been suspended for various reasons, the Rwandan government’s example shows that using drones for health care could eventually become a stable solution; providing life-saving drugs and equipment to those parts of the world where nature and man are cut off from the rest of the world is critical.

Mallika Khanna

Photo: Flickr