Drones make it possible to deliver blood, vaccines, birth control, snake bite serum and other medical supplies to rural areas and have the ability to reach victims who require immediate medical attention within minutes, which in some cases could mean the difference between life and death. They can transport medicine within hospital walls and courier blood between hospital buildings, as well as give elderly patients tools to support them as they age in place. UAS offer a variety of exciting possibilities to the health care industry, possibilities that help save money as well as lives.
The fight against life-threatening diseases in one of the world’s poorest nations could get a boost from an unlikely avenue, drones. An estimated 325 pregnant women per 100,000 die each year, often from postpartum hemorrhage. Many of these deaths are preventable if the women receive blood in time for a life-saving transfusion. But that’s a tall order in a country with inadequate infrastructure for delivering a product that has strict temperature requirements and spoils quickly.
The government of Rwanda and Zipline Inc, a U.S. based firm has partnered to improve the urgent medical supplies delivery system. Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo has built an instant trailblazing delivery system for the world, allowing medicines and other products to be delivered on-demand and at low cost, anywhere. President Paul Kagame expressed his enthusiasm on how the drone technology had the potential to transform business in a wide spectrum of sectors, not just health during the launch. About half of all the transfusions the company delivers goes to mothers suffering postpartum hemorrhage, and nearly a third goes to children suffering from severe anemia due to malaria infections.
Zipline has been working directly with Rwanda’s National Center for Blood Transfusion to make 50 to 150 deliveries a day of red blood cells, plasma or platelets to the 21 transfusion facilities in the western half of Rwanda. Their first hub is based in Muhonga district, about an hour’s drive west of Kigali, Rwanda. The only thing healthcare workers will need is a mobile phone and a “mailbox” drop point on the ground about the size of three or four parking spaces. A text message comes in requesting blood, and Zipline employees–including both Americans and local Rwandans–print a QR code with coordinates, flight plan and other things necessary for the drop.
A Zipline employee pulls blood from temperature-controlled storage, wraps it in butcher paper secured with biodegradable tape, and affixes the QR code that gets scanned to send the data to an iPad which communicates with the drone. The blood package is topped with a paper parachute and spring-loaded into the Zip drone, capable of carrying just over 3 pounds of supplies. The drone takes off from the clinic, travels at 50 to 85 miles per hour to the facility and pops out the package from about 100 feet in the air to parachute down to the mailbox.
Although Rwanda is the first government to sign a deal with Zipline, the company is in discussions with several other countries to deliver other types of medical products, from antibiotics to rabies antivenin to vaccines.