A third African country has launched a drone to distribute medical supplies to remote areas

Mildred Europa Taylor September 28, 2018
Drones being tested at the Malawi drone testing corridor -- Photo: UNICEF

Ethiopia has joined Rwanda and Malawi to become the third African country to successfully launch a drone that will distribute medical equipment and supplies to remote areas of the country.

The Ethiopian Ministry of Science and Technology has invested four million Birr ($144,990) for the pilot project that is expected to be completed by the end of the year to fully kickstart the programme.

“Our team did the full drone design,” Getahun Mekuria (PhD), minister of Science and Technology, told Ethiopian media, Fortune.

“And some of the components and its engine were manufactured and imported from genuine suppliers.”

The drone, carrying cargo weighing five kilograms and flying at 5,000m altitude, was assembled with components from China and an engine from the United States and can fly up to 120km an hour.

Ethiopia has successfully launched its first drone, carrying cargo weighing five kilograms and flying at 5,000m altitude — Fortune

The drones will deliver medical supplies running in autopilot mode from dispatch centres to be located in Addis Ababa, Meqelle, Hawasa, Jima, Dire Dewa and Bahir Dar the drones, and will operate in an area that covers a 150Km radius from each dispatch centre, according to the report by Fortune.

The Ministry will also manufacture an additional 23 drones in the next six months that will be used to deliver medical supplies on a regular basis to selected remote areas.

As part of moves to develop the project, the Ministry formulated a research and technology program by recruiting different talents from universities and schools and assembled 100 innovators working under this scheme.

Drones, otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), have been used for more than three decades but in recent years, they are increasingly being used for commercial purposes.

Drones for medical supply

Though western countries have been a bit slower than others to embrace drone deliveries due to strict regulations, African countries have readily welcomed the idea and are using the technology to solve a myriad of their challenges, particularly, in health.

In 2016, Rwanda launched the world’s first commercial drone delivery service to help distribute medical supplies to remote areas within the country.

The project was in partnership with US company Zipline and it was aimed at cutting the delivery of medical supplies to minutes instead of hours.

It is expected to deliver up to 150 medical supplies per day, including blood, plasma, and coagulants to about 21 health facilities in rural western Rwanda.

Drones are saving lives in Africa — BGR.com

This is how the system works in Rwanda: “In an emergency, a doctor can use WhatsApp Messenger to request blood, which gets packed into a Zip that’s fired into the air with a catapult. Using GPS navigation (and in coordination with Rwandan air traffic control), the drone heads for its target. When the Zip reaches its destination, typically within an hour of the initial request, the doctor gets a WhatsApp message to come outside, and the Zip drops the blood pack in a padded container with its own little parachute. The Zip then heads back home for an arresting-hook-assisted landing onto a soft mat, and it’s ready to fly again after a quick battery swap.”

In Malawi, drones deliver HIV test kits to and from remote parts of the country while in other African countries like South Africa and Namibia, drones are used to stop poaching, track illegal mine activities and for agricultural purposes.

For healthcare professionals, the use of drones has enormous benefits, specifically its ability to reach areas that lack proper infrastructure to deliver lifesaving drugs and other important items.

The technology has saved lives in cases of emergencies and due to its central stocking, medical doctors state that it has curtailed the issue of the short shelf life of whole blood, which made planning what types and amounts to keep on hand at each hospital difficult.

Below is a video of how drones are distributing medical supplies in Rwanda:


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