Zipline utilises automated drones to deliver life-saving emergency medical supplies.

Zipline delivers urgently needed medical supplies to remote health centres using automated drones. Their inaugural project, based in Rwanda, uses a fleet of drones to deliver emergency blood supplies to a number of hospitals and remote medical facilities across the country, where poor transportation infrastructure and seasonal weather variations impact the distribution of medical supplies.

The medical supplies are stored in Zipline’s distribution facility, where a team of drone technicians and medical experts manage requests for supplies. Health workers simply order supplies via text message or WhatsApp, then medical workers at the distribution facility pack the supplies and prepare them for delivery. The drones are then launched by the technicians, and fly at low altitude at speeds over 100 km/h along a predetermined path, meaning they do not need to be remotely controlled. When they arrive at the destination, normally in less than 30 minutes, they drop the supplies into a designated landing spot using a parachute, and the health workers are notified of the delivery.

The drones are powered by electricity and designed to be resilient in inclement weather. The facility in Rwanda operates at all times, and is currently capable of making 500 deliveries per day. Since launching in October 2016, they have already delivered 7,000 units of blood in 4,000 voyages – accounting for 20% of the blood deliveries outside of the capital, Kigali. The blood supplies are primarily used for complications in childbirth, and to help children suffering from anaemia caused by malaria. The company is also planning on expanding to Tanzania, and will increase the scope of their deliveries to include life saving medicines like emergency vaccines, antibiotics, and basic surgical supplies. They expect that this scaled-up project will make 2,000 deliveries per day.

Why you should care

Rwanda’s health care system has come a long way in recent decades – in particular, Rwanda has brought maternal mortality rates down from 1,300 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to just 290 in 2015. However, major infrastructural challenges like poor road quality, flooding during the biannual wet seasons, and congestion mean that it takes on average four hours to deliver blood for emergency transfusions – which is in many instances a matter of life or death. By dramatically reducing the time it takes to deliver blood, from four hours to just 30 minutes, Zipline is helping to avoid numerous preventable deaths in Rwanda.

How the Global Goals are addressed

Good health and well-being

By overcoming distribution barriers, Zipline is improving access to vital blood supplies and helping avoid preventable deaths in childbirth and from diseases like malaria.