Access to life-saving health products is hampered by what is known as the last-mile problem: the inability to deliver needed medicine from a city to rural or remote locations due to lack of adequate transportation, communication or supply chain infrastructure. As a result, people in need of care don’t receive the medicine they need.
Countries in West Africa are at the forefront of alleviating this problem by implementing Zipline, a drone delivery service built and operated by a California-based automated logistics company of the same name.
The on-demand service was recognised in 2017's INDEX: Design to improve life, the biggest design award in the world. Zipline was chosen as one of the five INDEX winners out of 1401 entries from 85 countries all over the world.
It starts with a text message. Health professionals at clinics or hospitals call, text, or Whatsapp an order to their nearest Zipline distribution centre for the medical products they need. In as little as 15 minutes, the package containing the order is delivered by drone, landing by parachute in a designated area the size of a few parking spaces. Hospitals are then notified via text message and the drone returns to the centre for its next delivery. According to Zipline, the process is faster than any other mode of transport available.
In October of 2016, Zipline and the Government of Rwanda launched the world’s first national drone delivery service to make on-demand emergency blood deliveries to transfusion clinics across the country. Since the October launch, Zipline has flown more than 100 000 kilometres in Rwanda, delivering 2600 units of blood over 1400 flights.
This month, Tanzania announced it will launch the world’s largest national drone delivery network in 2018, with the first of its four distribution centres located in Dodoma, the country’s capital.
“Millions of people across the world die each year because they can’t get the medicine they need when they need it,” said Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo. “It’s a problem in both developed and developing countries. But it’s a problem we can help solve with on-demand drone delivery. And African nations are showing the world how it’s done.”
Each of the four distribution centres will be equipped with up to 30 drones and is capable of making up to 500 on-demand delivery flights a day. The drones can carry 1.5 kilos of cargo, cruising at 110 kilometers an hour, and have a round trip range of 160 kilometers.
Zipline’s commercial partnerships with Rwanda and Tanzania are expected to save thousands of lives over the next several years.