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Medical Delivery Drones Rescue Africa from ‘Diseases of Poverty’

Medical Delivery Drones Rescue Africa from ‘Diseases of Poverty’

The impoverished lifestyle, malnutrition, contaminated water, and inadequate sanitation, among others, have only made low-income earners more susceptible to health issues. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these conditions, which are often dubbed the diseases of poverty, are more prevalent in developing countries, particularly in Africa.

As WHO’s research shows, diseases of poverty are also the main causes of deaths in the African region. In 2015 alone, approximately 130 million (10.9%) deaths were due to respiratory infection, 99 million (8.3%) deaths due to HIV/AIDS, 83 million (7%) deaths due to diarrhea, 56 million (4.7%) deaths due to tuberculosis, and 52 million (4.4%) deaths due to malaria.

Thus, lower-income residents need quality medical care; however, access to it is almost impossible because of the costly treatments, scarce clinicians and facilities, and limited medical benefits.

The effects of the surging mortality rate are already curbing the economy, which prompted various African leaders to push for better medical services by providing universal health insurance, employing more medical professionals, and building additional facilities. Over the years, significant progress has been seen in many African countries, but the results are only less dreadful—not better.

The poor infrastructural condition hampering the delivery of medical supplies is the main reason behind the still-dire statistics. Because of that, some countries took the extra mile. Rwanda and Ghana, for instance, employed medical delivery drones to curb the problem.

How Zipline’s Medical Delivery Drones Help Ease the Dire Health Situation in Africa

Making one of the benefits of drone technology, Thanks to Zipline International, a California-based startup drone innovator, medical delivery drones have been deployed in Africa to help approximately 11 million people get instant access to vaccines, medicines, and blood supply. With the current delivery system, medical professionals can ditch the four-hour drive to collect supplies from centers.

Zipline’s medical delivery drone races at over 100 kilometers per hour, dispatching medicines in just 30 minutes. With this speed, patients needing immediate blood transfusions, vaccinations, or treatments will receive it in a swift, increasing the chances of survival.

Zipline Drone

In 2016, Rwanda signed a $25 million contract with the company to use their aerial vehicles to bypass the existing problem of medical supply transportation. Aviation laws were revised and training and relevant education were provided before Zipline operated in the country’s airspace. Since then, the overall health conditions in Rwanda significantly improved—the mortality rate reduced to 6.4% and life expectancy increased to 71 years old in 2017.

For many, Zipline’s technology has been a dependable solution. Because of its state-of-the-art program, Rwandans within the 80 km radius are assured that needed medicines will arrive right on time, even in adverse weather conditions. To date, more than 7,000 supplies of blood and vaccines have been distributed across the country.

Seeing the significant improvement in Rwanda’s healthcare system, Ghana has signed a $12.5 million contract with Zipline in late 2018. But many citizens seem unimpressed.

The Ghana Medical Association (GMA) called out the parliament to reallocate the funds to employ more medical professionals, build additional hospitals, and purchase new medical transportation, considering 29 million residents have to depend on only 55 (outdated) ambulances. The association also insisted to break off the deal, saying, “The use of drones without the necessary improvement in the human resource capacity will not benefit the country in its quest to improve healthcare delivery.”

Delivery Drone of Zipline

Despite the public’s protest, the government pushed through with the plan, which was also supported by various sectors in Ghana. In fact, the director general of the Ghana Health Service, Dr. Anthony Nsiah Asare, requested for the speedy implementation of the medical delivery drones so “life-saving and other essential medicines on-demand will be sent to every part of the country regardless of the terrain or road infrastructure.”

Zipline also upholds the decision of the administration. COO William Hetzler understands the sentiments of the people since the operational value for the medical delivery drones is undeniably expensive, even costlier than the traditional means of distribution. However, he believes the net expenses will be reduced when “improvements to the supply chain, waste minimization, and an increased volume of flights” are achieved.

Currently, the company is coordinating with the Tanzanian government and carrying out some test flights to prepare for a smooth takeoff in the country.

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