Getting from A to B in Rwanda isn’t always easy, especially if you’ve got an emergency on your hands. It’s covered in mountains, it doesn't have great roads, and many people live in rural areas.
That’s why a California-based startup called Zipline is using drones to deliver emergency medicines and blood to rural corners of this small African nation.
Using airplane-like drones to deliver life-saving supplies, the project in Rwanda has partnered with the country’s health ministry since October 2016 and now caters to around 6 million Rwandans through 21 hospitals nationwide.
Last year, they managed to deliver a total of 5,500 units of blood, The Guardian reports. The drones can deliver supplies 24/7 and reach their destination within 45 minutes to 4 hours. The project has been dubbed “Uber for blood” because the orders are made through a simple text message from the hospital. Within 15 minutes of receiving the text message, a team of experts launch a drone with a package up to the skies, where it flies autonomously for up to 75 kilometers (47 miles) towards its desired destination.
Since blood has a finite “lifespan”, time is of the essence when delivering it to people in need of a blood transfusion, such as women suffering heavy bleeding after childbirth. Rwanda, “the land of a thousand hills”, is also notoriously difficult to traverse, so aerial drones are the quickest and most efficient way to make these deliveries.
“You can avoid expiries, you can avoid stock out because the supply chain is improved,” Dr Diane Gashumba, Minister of Health in Rwanda, said in a Zipline video. “Blood is life. It is saving the life of Rwandans.”
Zipline also plans to set-up shop in Tanzania in 2018, a much larger country that borders Rwanda. When it is up-and-running, it will be the world’s largest drone delivery service to provide emergency on-demand medical supplies.
"Every life is precious. The government of Tanzania through the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children has made great achievements in improving health services including the availability of medicines in all Public Health Facilities,” Dr Mpoki Ulisubisya, Permanent Secretary of the Tanzania Ministry of Health, said in a statement.
"Our vision is to have a healthy society with improved social well being that will contribute effectively to personal and national development; working with Zipline will help make that vision a reality.”