Medical drone delivery service for Rwanda

Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, has formally opened the world’s first drone delivery service at the country’s Muhanga District.

From today, the Rwandan government is to begin using drones in order to deliver up to 150 on demand emergency deliveries per day of human blood for 21 transfusing facilities in the western half of the country.

The drone delivery service is being developed in collaboration between UPS, the CA based Zipline and the Vaccine Alliance. While initially focused on blood the plans are to ‘quickly expand’ the types of medicines and lifesaving vaccines that the operation can deliver.

“Drones are very useful, both commercially and for improving services in the health sector. We are happy to be launching this innovative technology and to continue working with partners to develop it further,” said Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Blood transfusion centres across the western half of the country can now send a text message for the blood required, and these orders are received by Zipline at its based in Muhanga where the 15 drones, known as Zips, are based.

The fixed wing Zip drones have a range of up to 150km and can carry payloads of up to 1.5kg of blood. This is generally enough to save someone’s life. The Zips take off and land at the base (known as the Nest) and make deliveries by descending close to the ground where they air drop the medicine close to a spot known as the ‘mailbox’ near the target health centre. Orders can be fulfilled in around half an hour.

The Rwandan government plans to extend the Zipline drone delivery service to the eastern half of Rwanda in early 2017, putting nearly every one of the country’s 11 million residents in range of the medicines.

Should this work, it is hoped to export the service to other developing countries around the world.

Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, commented: “This project will also act as an important test for whether drones are a viable way to improve targeted vaccine delivery around the world. Every child deserves basic, lifesaving vaccines. This technology could be an important step towards ensuring they get them.”

 
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