This Company Uses Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies Within 35 Minutes

Zipline's drones resemble small single prop aircraft and are designed to deliver life-saving resources to any area of Western Rwanda within 15-35 minutes, despite the remoteness of the location.

A delivery drone company has been created to address the problem of access to medical supplies in rural African countries.

The San Francisco-based robotics company is called Zipline, and it introduced a fleet of medical delivery drones into Rwanda early this year. The drones delivered blood to 21 blood transfusing facilities in western Rwanda with the government’s assistance. 

The drones resemble small single prop aircraft and are designed to deliver life-saving resources to any area of Western Rwanda within 15-35 minutes, despite the remoteness of the location. So far, the operation makes about 500 deliveries a day.

This Company Uses Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies Within 35 Minutes
Source: Zipline/YouTube

“To have a proven model here first in Rwanda is amazing,” Maggie Jim, global operations, and communications manager for Zipline told Quartz.

The company is talking with other governments in Africa, including Tanzania’s. Latin America is also on the cards for expansion.

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How does it work?

Health workers at remote clinics and hospitals can text their order to Zipline’s distribution center in Muhanga, Rwanda for whatever products they require using SMS or WhatsApp. Orders are also made by phone

The company then packages the items at their refrigerated facility maintaining “cold-chain and product integrity.”

The health workers receive an indication via text message that their order is on the way, the drone is sent into the air via a launcher and gets up to speeds of 110km/h - arriving faster than allegedly “any mode of transport,” according to the website. The drone can also carry up to 1.5kg of blood.

This Company Uses Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies Within 35 Minutes
Source: Zipline/YouTube

Fifteen minutes later the biodegradable paper box is delivered by parachute landing in a designated area the size of a handful of parking spaces. The staff in the clinic are then told by text message that their package has arrived.

This Company Uses Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies Within 35 Minutes
Source: Zipline/YouTube

The tireless drones take off once again and head back to Zipline’s distribution center for a quick stop before the next order.   

 The Zipline team also understood the ramifications of operating within a somewhat unstable country like Rwanda and made sure to earn the trust and understanding of the communities their drones will fly over.

Before the soft launch, the group held town-hall events in which they reassured residents of these areas with photos of the drones, explaining that they were only meant for delivery and nothing sinister.

Rwanda isn't the only country in Africa to implement drones into health care, UNICEF and the government of Malawi recently launched a project in which drones were used to cart infant HIV tests back and forth from clinic to lab in order to expedite results and thereby give the proper treatment in a timely manner. Prior to that, patients would have to wait more than two months for results. 

With drone delivery, those two months could be reduced to days. “What we’re hoping is that when you get leapfrog technology like this it can catalyze the whole system,” Angela Travis, chief of communication for UNICEF in Malawi, told Quartz.

The next step for Zipline is Tanzania with 120 drones and more than 1,000 clinics.

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