Drones to be used in supplying medicine in Rwanda

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Conventionally, far flung health facilities across the country rely on road networks to replenish medical and blood supplies which could take days given the state of some roads.

The state of affairs has been said to put lives of patients at risk due to the long period it takes to deliver the supplies.

However, this is set to change in coming weeks when delivery of blood supplies in 21 medical facilities in the Southern Province kicks off using remotely piloted aircraft, popularly known as ‘drones.

This follows a deal signed in February this year, between the government and Zipline Inc, a California-based robotics firm to build infrastructure for unmanned aerial system (UAS) to ensure efficient logistical transportation of medical supplies in the country.

The deal will see Rwanda become the first country in the world to deliver blood supplies with other supplies using drone technology.

Currently, installations for the drone port, where the drones will land and take off in Muhanga District are underway with tests expected to begin in a few weeks.

The first two drones arrived in the country on Sunday and are soon expected to undergo a test and trial phase before actual deliveries begin.

Speaking to The New Times yesterday, Malik Kayumba, the head of the health communication division at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, said more drones were expected in the country in coming days to bring the total number to 15 drones.

Kayumba said the drones would serve to deliver blood supplies to about 21 facilities once operations begin.

In May this year, Zipline entered into a partnership with The UPS Foundation, an internationally renowned logistics firm, to explore using drones to transform the way life-saving medicines, vaccines and blood are delivered across the world.

The UPS Foundation put in $800,000 through a grant to support the initial launch of the initiative in Rwanda.

This aimed at actualising the target to enable the initiative make up to 150 deliveries per day of life-saving blood to 21 transfusing facilities located in the western half of Rwanda.

The plan is to expand the initiative to include vaccines, treatments for HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and many other essential and lifesaving medicines as well as use it as a model for other countries.

Officials say that the choice of Muhanga as the centre of operations and location for the first drone port was partly informed by its centrality to all parts of the country, making it easy to deliver the supplies to even the remotest parts of Rwanda.

In a previous interview with The New Times, Keller Rinaudo the chief executive of Zipline, said by using the drones, Rwanda would significantly reduce the cost incurred in the delivery of medical supplies as well as improve accessibility to even the remotest parts of the country, that are otherwise hard to access by roads.

The government’s commitment to use technology for social good had facilitated his firm’s entry into the country, he said.

“It will be the first time ever that these vehicles are integrated into an existing health supply chain,” Rinaudo said.

 

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