Health in Africa

Drones deliver medicines in Africa

A US-based company transports life-saving drugs, 148 vaccines and blood units to 2,000 health facilities across Ghana

By Rajit Sengupta
Published: Friday 07 June 2019
Drones deliver medicines in Africa

If you thought only hot-baked pizzas can be delivered in 30 minutes, think again. Zipline, a US-based company, takes the same time, or less, to deliver life-saving drugs, 148 vaccines and blood units to any of the 2,000 health facilities across Ghana. Zipline relies on a fleet of drones which it refers to as zips.

The process is simple. A doctor sends a message to Zipline, which then packs the items in a small cardboard box and places it in a drone that cruises at 110 km per hour, sends intimation to the doctor’s phone minutes before reaching, drops the box at the designated place outside the hospital using a paper parachute, and flies back to the base to hang from a sling.

“In all healthcare logistics, you’re always trading off waste against access,” says Keller Rinaudo, founder and CEO of Zipline, that started its operations in Rwanda in 2016 and today delivers 65 per cent of blood units in capital Kigali. If you stock a lot of medicines at hospitals, it leads to wastage. So you keep everything centralised. But this makes access to medical products difficult in case of emergencies. Drones can permanently break this cycle, he adds.

Zipline claims that its service has increased the use of blood products by 175 per cent in Rwanda while reducing wastage and spoilage of medical products by 95 per cent. The company has big expansion plans. It will start operations in California, USA, in a few months and is in talks with the governments of South Africa and India.

(This article was first published in Down To Earth's print edition dated June 1-15, 2019)

‘India can quickly become our international hub’

Asaad Joubran, business developer, Zipline, says the company now plans to spread its wings in India, leveraging on the country’s technology talents and progressive policies

What’s the potential for Zipline in India?

We are in advanced talks with a number of state governments. India’s long distances and difficult terrain create significant challenges for the health supply chain. With Zipline, India can make all medicines and blood available to all health facilities at any time

What would be the scale of your operations?

We already have a small team in the country and expect to grow significantly. Our distribution centres will employ local pharmacists and flight operators. We expect to create hundreds of new jobs in India. Zipline India can quickly become an international hub for drone technology, mainly because of the progressive government policy on drones, the exceptional technology talents and committed governments to improve the state of health in remote areas.

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