Monday, April 24, 2017

More than two billion people lack adequate access to essential medical supplies, often due to rough terrain or gaps in infrastructure which means a relatively short journey can take hours or even days to complete. For patients in critical conditions, who urgently require blood or medicine, this time can mean the difference between life and death.

In October 2016 Zipline, in partnership with the Rwandan Government, launched an operation which uses fixed-wing drones to deliver blood products to twenty hospitals and health centres in areas across rural Western Rwanda. These areas may otherwise be inaccessible due to weather or terrain. A journey that normally takes 4 hours by car or ambulance can be completed in just 15 minutes by one of the Zip drones, improving the chances of survival for the patient.

Health workers place orders by text message and within minutes a Zip is launched by catapult carrying the medical products ordered. The delivery is then dropped off at the health centre, and immediately returns back to the launch facility ready for the next delivery. With an operational range of 150km (twice this range is possible) the potential for just a single home base is huge, with national-scale coverage achievable.

Though the scope for aid delivered by drones is paramount, unfortunately there is resistance throughout Africa to using UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). Often UAVs are perceived by the general public as linked to military operations or surveillance, and confused with weaponised drones. Particularly in states with a history of conflict, the negative implications for many outweigh the positive impact that drones could have. 

Zipline has combatted these potential setbacks in citizen buy-in with help from the Rwandan government. Due to the high degree of ownership and interest that the Rwandan government has taken in the project, and the view that they have taken of the project as an investment for Rwandan citizens, the government spread the word about Zipline using a range of media forms. Rather than seeing them as a threat the their security, Rwandans now view the Zips as ambulances in the sky.