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How drones are used to deliver emergency medical stocks

By Carol Natukunda

Added 13th November 2018 03:39 PM

Racing at over 100 km per hour, the drone delivers the units of blood in just less than 30 minutes

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A technician of California-based robotics company Zipline launches a drone in Muhanga, 50 kilometres (31 miles) west of the capital Kigali. (AFP)

Racing at over 100 km per hour, the drone delivers the units of blood in just less than 30 minutes

It buzzes like a bee. And in just a blink of an eye, it has disappeared into the clouds to deliver medicines and blood supplies to remote hospitals.

Thanks to technology, drones are now being tested for delivering emergence medicines, vaccines and blood.

In some countries, including Ghana and Tanzania, reports show that there are plans to roll out these unmanned aerial systems to help deal with the delays that come with long distances, and poor road network.

In neighbouring Rwanda, where this technology has already been embraced, the drones make up to 30 deliveries of blood per day.

Since the inception of the program in 2016, more than 14,000 blood units have been delivered to the country's public health facilities, 30% of which were emergencies.

"It is mainly mothers in labour that are in need not this blood. Drones carry a maximum of two kgs of blood. We have 40 drones and do about 25 to 30 deliveries per day," explains Israel Bimpe, the national implementation manager at Zipline International, a company that designs, assembles and manages the crafts.

Bimpe says they constantly laisse with the health ministry as well as civil aviation authorities to ensure they are no glitches.

"Civil aviation flies six drones at a time. And then the blood transfusion body ensures we have blood to deliver," explains Bimpe.

Officials say there are plans to expand the drone services to transport other commodities such as contraceptives.

How the drone works

During a media tour of Zipline site at Muhanga, southern province of Rwanda, Israel Bimpe explained that the deliveries are sent on demand.


It begins with the doctor sending a text or a WhatsApp message to say there are patients in need of the blood.

There is also a toll free line for those unable to use the Internet. 

Barely minutes and without compromising storage, the staff have packed the units and prepared for the flight.

"Racing at over 100 km per hour, the drone delivers the units of blood in just less than 30 minutes,” he says.

The staffs at the hospital do not interact with the drone. "Everything is automated. It stops at the distribution center which is 10 meters above the ground delivers the supplies and takes off again to return to the original site," explains Bimpe.

The drone system is run by a team of about 30 specialists in flight operations, information and communications technology, engineers and software fields.




 

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