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Drone delivery of vaccine supplies planned in Rwanda

Gavi, UPS and Zipline hope new network will be a test-case for other countries

Zipline drone flying

A new national drone delivery network to distribute blood supplies will come online this summer in Rwanda, with tests planned of its suitability to be used for a wider range of medical products.

The Gavi-backed project to expand the network could see it used to deliver vaccines, HIV/AIDS treatments and medicines for conditions like malaria and tuberculosis.

Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, said: “It is a totally different way of delivering vaccines to remote communities and we are extremely interested to learn if UAVs [unmanned ariel vehicles] can provide a safe, effective way to make vaccines available for some of the hardest-to-reach children.”

The initiative's other partners include Californian robotics company Zipline - whose drones are used in the network - and UPS, and the delivery and logistics giant's 'global citizenship' arm, the UPS Foundation, has awarded an $800,000 grant to support its initial launch.

Zipline drone assembly 

Eduardo Martinez, president of The UPS Foundation and chief diversity and inclusion officer at UPS, said: “Public-private partnerships are the key to solving many of the world's challenges, with each partner contributing its unique expertise. 

“UPS is always exploring innovative ways to enhance humanitarian logistics to help save lives, and we're proud to partner with Gavi and Zipline as we explore ways to extend the Rwandan government's innovations at a global scale.”

Zipline Rwanda drone delivery site map 

In its first iteration, the Rwandan government will use Zipline's drones, to make up to 150 deliveries per day of blood to 21 transfusing facilities located in the western half of the country (see delivery site map above). Africa has the highest rate in the world of maternal death due to postpartum haemorrhaging - hence the initial focus on speeding up blood delivery.

Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo said: “The inability to deliver life-saving medicines to the people who need them the most causes millions of preventable deaths each year. The work of this partnership will help solve that problem once and for all. 

“With the expertise and vision of UPS, Gavi and Zipline, instant drone delivery will allow us to save thousands of lives in a way that was never before possible.”

The hope is that Rwanda's national drone network, which could enable medical authorities to save thousands of lives over the next three years, will act as a potential model for other countries.

9th May 2016

From: Healthcare

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