Drones to deliver life-saving medicine to Rwanda's 'inaccessible' areas


The Rwandan government will use Zipline drones to deliver up to 150 packages of blood per day to 21 transfusing facilities across the western region of the country.

CAPE TOWN – Three private American-based companies will team up with the Rwandan government to begin delivery of much-needed medical supplies to areas around the country where medical treatment remains virtually inaccessible, one of the partners said on Monday.

The UPS Foundation – the community arm of the global small package delivery company UPS, robotics company Zipline, and Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance – have partnered to explore the use of drones for delivery of “life-saving medicines like blood and vaccines” in areas across the world.

The alliance said their motivation for doing so was that “all too often, critical health products spoil or fail to reach the individuals who urgently need them”.

The global launch of the initiative would take place in Rwanda, for which the UPS Foundation has awarded a US$800,000 grant. It would kick off in the country later this year.

“UPS is always exploring innovative ways to enhance humanitarian logistics to help save lives, and we’re proud to partner with Gavi and Zipline as we explore ways to extend the Rwandan government’s innovations at a global scale,” said UPS Foundation president Eduardo Martinez.

This extension would see the Rwandan government use Zipline drones in the delivery of up to 150 packages of blood per day to 21 transfusing facilities across the western region of the country.

The initial focus on the delivery of blood supplies in Rwanda – which has been motivated by the World Health Organisation’s statistics on Africa’s high rate of maternal deaths due to postpartum haemorrhaging – will later expand to include vaccines, treatments for HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, as well as other essential medicines.

“Our partnership… is a totally different way of delivering vaccines to remote communities and we are extremely interested to learn if [drones] can provide a safe, effective way to make vaccines available for some of the hardest-to-reach children,” said Gavi chief executive Seth Berkley.

“The inability to deliver life-saving medicines to the people who need them the most causes millions of preventable deaths each year. The work of this partnership will help solve that problem once and for all,” said Zipline’s chief executive Keller Rinaudo.

“With the expertise and vision of UPS, Gavi, and Zipline, instant drone delivery will allow us to save thousands of lives in a way that was never before possible.”

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