Synonymous with extrajudicial eliminations of threats and would-be threats, drones continue to live in infamy, with even Captain America fighting to swat them out of the sky in The Winter Soldier. But Cap can rest easy, because Zipline International’s drones will aim to eliminate threats of a wholly different sort—by delivering medical relief to the most remote areas in Rwanda.
By the end of the year, Zipline will roll out its drone delivery programme, which will see medical supplies—starting with blood for Rwanda’s transfusion centres—being delivered across the country. Zipline will team up with logistics giant UPS to produce the drones, with the latter stumping up cash (USD800,000) and consultation on national-level supply chain management.
Post-genocide, Rwanda has shown a remarkable recovery in terms of healthcare, with deaths from communicable diseases like HIV, tuberculosis and malaria dropping significantly over the past decade. This is largely attributable to the country’s Vision 2020 policy, which stresses public health as a prerequisite of combating poverty, and which employs the kind of BS-free forward thinking in which Zipline’s drone programme fits so neatly.
But as much as healthcare has improved, some 30,000 Rwandans are still in need of blood transfusions every year for the treatment of malaria, obstetrical complications and chronic diseases. The needs of Rwanda’s hospitals and transfusion centres are rarely met due not only to scarcity of supply, but also inaccessibility.
This is where Zipline comes in. The drones will make up to 150 daily deliveries of red blood cells, plasma, and platelets to 21 transfusion centres across Rwanda, at a cost of just USD0.05 per delivery.
Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo aims to replicate the technology for all situations requiring relief, citing the number of disaster-response workers who risked their lives during the 2014 West African Ebola outbreak. While acknowledging that these workers were heroes, Rinaudo nevertheless stresses that “in the future we can use technology to not have to ask those people to give their lives for the cause."