From this summer drones will be delivering urgent blood supplies in mountainous Rwanda thanks to an agreement between the Rwandan government and robotics company Zipline.
The company says it will deliver all blood products for all 21 transfusion facilities using its drones. The service will initially cover the Western half of Rwanda and will expand to the East of the country in 2017.
Rwanda is nicknamed “the land of the thousand hills” and partly because of this challenging terrain more than 2bn people lack adequate access to essential medical products.
Zipline says as part of its service a health worker can place an order by text message and within minutes a drone can be prepared and launched.
Each drone weighs 10kg, can carry 1.5kg of medicine and can fly a 120km round trip on a single battery charge, even in poor weather.
The drones, which fly at 100kmh, will initially make 50 to 150 daily deliveries of blood and emergency medicine. Zipline says it expects its service to save thousands of lives over coming years.
Zipline’s drones operate from bases called “nests”, which are made from modified shipping containers located next to medical warehouses.
Each nest is a base for 15 drones. The aircraft make deliveries by descending close to the ground and dropping blood or medicine by parachuted container to a designated dropzone near the health centres they serve.
The company’s team includes aerospace veterans who previously worked at companies like Boeing and NASA and it counts Microsoft CEO Paul Allen among its investors.
Zipline said its Rwanda operation will be run by a combination of Rwandan and American engineers from a base in the country’s centrally-located Muhanga District. Deliveries are due to start in July.
The company said it plans to expand operations to countries across Africa and the world, moving beyond blood delivery to include other medicines.
Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, said: “This visionary project in Rwanda has the potential to revolutionize public health and its lifesaving potential is vast.”