It’s been quite a week for drone delivery. The FAA announced that Wing had received the first ever airline carrier for drones authorization, which would open the doors to commercial package delivery in the United States.
Now, global drone delivery heroes Zipline, who established a ground-breaking medical delivery network in Rwanda and have set the standard for developing drone delivery programs in developing countries, announce the largest vaccine drone delivery network in the world.
Having developed their systems in Rwanda and Tanzania, Zipline has now taken a giant step in scale, increasing the volume of deliveries by 100x. It’s an amazing, heart-warming, and significant application for drone technology.
“No one in Ghana should die because they can’t access the medicine they need in an emergency,” said His Excellency Nana Akufo-Addo, President of the Republic of Ghana. “Every single life in this country is precious. Every mother, every child, every parent, every person. We must do everything within our means to ensure that each and every citizen of Ghana has access to the quality healthcare they deserve. That’s why Ghana is launching the world’s largest drone delivery service. It represents a major step towards giving everyone in this country universal access to lifesaving medicine.”
Not only is the application fascinating, but the scale and scope of the delivery program provide a proof of concept for drone delivery programs – and healthcare programs – around the world. Please read on to learn more about Zipline’s project, and how a large-scale, on-demand drone delivery program works.
The following is taken from a Zipline press release. The quote above was excerpted from this release.
OMENAKO, GHANA Wednesday, April 24th—Today, during World Immunization Week, President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana officially launched the world’s largest medical drone delivery service during an inaugural ceremony in the city of Omenako, site of the first of four Zipline drone distribution centers in the country.
The revolutionary new service will use drones to make on-demand, emergency deliveries of 148 different vaccines, blood products, and life-saving medications. The service will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from 4 distribution centers—each equipped with 30 drones—and deliver to 2,000 health facilities serving 12 million people across the country. Together, all four distribution centers will make up to 600 on-demand delivery flights a day on behalf of the Government of Ghana. Each Zipline distribution center has the capacity to make up to 500 flights per day.
“Millions of people across the world—in both developed and developing countries—die each year because they can’t get the medicine they need when they need it,” said Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo. “That’s why Zipline is building the first logistics system on the planet to serve all people equally.”
“The ability of the Government to supplement routine immunisation on demand will allow us to make sure that there will always be enough life-saving vaccines for every child in Ghana,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “This is an exciting development for Gavi that is ultimately going to ensure we leave no one behind and help us protect more children living in remote areas against vaccine preventable diseases.”
“Supply-chain innovation and technology are bringing new possibilities to the healthcare industry. Building strong, inclusive public-private partnerships is critical to delivering life-saving commodities throughout our communities,” said Eduardo Martinez, president of The UPS Foundation and UPS chief diversity and inclusion officer. “We are honored to be part of this collective effort to build on the success in Rwanda to reach the 12 million people in Ghana who will now be supported.”
“Pfizer is proud to join Zipline and others to support the Government of Ghana as it moves forward in its ambition to provide quality healthcare for each and every one of its citizens,” said Caroline Roan, Vice President of Global Health & Patient Access, Pfizer Inc., and President of the Pfizer Foundation. “To overcome today’s complex healthcare challenges and go the last mile, we must think differently to strengthen systems and improve supply chain efficiencies. Pfizer looks forward to exploring how the learnings from this program might be leveraged to develop innovative delivery systems around the world to increase access to essential health products and save lives.”
“While vaccines prevent three million deaths each year worldwide, there are still far too many children who don’t have access to these life-saving tools,” said Chris Elias, President of the Global Development Division at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Quality primary health care relies on health workers always having access to the vaccines and other critical medicines they need to care for their patients, wherever they are. We are delighted to have supported this effort and commend Ghana on its leadership.”
Zipline is also partnering with Novartis to help support its recently announced collaboration with the Government of Ghana to improve screening, diagnosis, and treatment of sickle cell disease. Zipline will use its delivery service to make sure screening tests are widely available, and that adult and pediatric patients can receive the care they need close to home.
“We are excited about the potential that our partnership with Zipline brings in helping reach patients in the most rural villages in Ghana with high quality care,” said Dr. Patrice Matchaba, Group Head Global Health and Corporate Responsibility at Novartis. “It is only with timely diagnosis and treatment that we can “reimagine” the care and lessen the burden of sickle cell disease on families throughout Ghana.”
Zipline’s Global Expansion in 2019 and Beyond
Zipline’s commercial partnerships with Ghana and Rwanda are expected to help save tens of thousands of lives over the next several years. Zipline is hard at work catching up to demand to expand drone delivery services to developed and developing countries across Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Americas throughout 2019, including the United States. Zipline is working with the U.S. state of North Carolina to launch its medical drone delivery as a part of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) UAS Integration Pilot Program (UASIPP) in Q2 of 2019.
Zipline’s Record To Date
Since launching its drone delivery service in Rwanda in October of 2016, Zipline has flown over 1 million autonomous kilometers. The company has made more than 13,000 deliveries, about a third of which have been in emergencies when someone’s life was on the line. Zipline now delivers more than 65% of Rwanda’s blood supply outside of the capital, Kigali.
In addition to its impact on lifesaving emergencies, Zipline’s just-in-time drone delivery service has helped transform the country’s medical supply chain. To date, this service has helped ensure that hospitals always have access to blood products, increasing the use of rare and specialized blood products by 175% and reducing waste and spoilage by over 95%.
In December of 2018, the Government of Rwanda expanded both the scope and reach of Zipline’s service in the country. The partnership has moved beyond blood to include delivery of 169 other critical and lifesaving medical products, like emergency vaccines, routine vaccines, and essential medical supplies. Zipline also launched a second distribution center in eastern Rwanda, allowing the company to provide lifesaving medicine to most of the country’s 12 million citizens within minutes.
The expansion of Zipline’s operations in both Ghana and Rwanda will increase the number of health facilities the company serves by almost 100x. In the last six months, Zipline has gone from one distribution in one country delivering blood to 21 hospitals to operating six distribution centers in two countries delivering more than 170 different vaccines, blood products, and medications to 2,500 health facilities serving close to 22 million people.
Zipline is an automated logistics company based in California. The company—which includes seasoned aerospace veterans from teams like SpaceX, Google, Boeing, and NASA—designs and operates an autonomous system for delivering lifesaving medicine to the world’s most difficult to reach places. Zipline’s mission is to provide every human on Earth with instant access to vital medical supplies. The most respected investors in the world support Zipline, including Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, GV, Katalyst Ventures, Yahoo founder Jerry Yang, and Stanford University.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
Subscribe to DroneLife here.