Rwanda is a country in central Africa known as “the land of a thousand hills.” The troublesome topography combined with the heavy rainy season from March to May makes any travel, even by car, nearly impossible. So how do people across the country get access to basic healthcare? Lots of countries in Africa and across the world organize healthcare facilities into three basic tiers: hospitals, healthcare centers, and rural outposts. Few people regularly have access to hospitals since most of the population lives in rural areas. So what’s happening to improve Rwandan healthcare?
The government of Rwanda recently partnered with Zipline, a drone company which now allows them to easily deliver blood and other medicines, such as rabies vaccines, from medical warehouses to rural health outposts. These deliveries, which once took at least 4 hours by car during the dry season now take about 15 minutes. These drones, called zips are capable of flying up to 150 kilometers (93 miles) and can carry up to 1.5 kilograms (3 pounds). Blood has a short shelf life and so do vaccines and with so many different kinds it makes it hard to store them in outposts. Doctors can text or call in their orders and will receive a two minute notice before the drone arrives. The doctor will then go outside and the drone will spiral down to drop the package and then continue on its flight without stopping. 2.9 million kids under age 5 die every year because they lack access to basic healthcare. These zips make hundreds of deliveries every day and each one is saving a life.
Zipline started their blood deliveries on the week of October 10th, but plan to reach the eastern part of Rwanda by early 2017. Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo says they plan to expand drone service to reach 7 million people in western Rwanda, covering an area of about 7,000 square miles, about the size of New Jersey. Zipline also announced plans to deliver blood to rural areas of Maryland, Nevada, and Washington in 2017. The company also has ambitions to spread to more countries in East Africa.