On Thursday, October 10, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo officially launched Ghana’s newest medical drone delivery base in the city of Mampong during a tour of the Ashanti Region.
This marks the second of what will be four medical drone delivery bases that have been commissioned to help expand access to critical and life-saving medicines for people across Ghana.
Zipline, a California-based robotics company, operates the medical drone delivery service with support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Pfizer, the UPS Foundation and other partners.
Like the facility in Omenako, the Mampong operation uses drones to make on-demand and emergency deliveries of 12 routine and emergency vaccines as well as 148 blood products and critical medicines.
Ghana’s Expanded Program on Immunisation (EPI) will supply Zipline with Gavi-supported vaccines for delivery, including Yellow Fever, Polio, Measles & Rubella, Meningitis, Pneumococcal , and Diphtheria & Tetanus, among others.
EPI will also leverage Zipline’s delivery service for future mass immunization programs in the country.
The service will operate seven days a week with the goal of delivering to up to 500 health facilities in the Ashanti region. The third drone delivery base will launch later this year and the fourth soon after that.
Since launching in April of 2019, the Omenako base has made more than 1300 aerial deliveries across the Eastern Region to deliver more than 7,000 critical and emergency medicines to patients in need and helped to save many lives.
Omenako is now serving 52 health facilities with many more expected to be added over the coming weeks, as new routes are approved, and facilities are trained. By April of 2020, all four bases will make up to 600 on-demand delivery flights a day on behalf of the Government of Ghana to close to 2,000 health facilities across the country.
“When we said we were going to use drones to deliver essential medical health products, the naysayers said it was not possible; Today, many of us are seeing how impactful this service has been just within the past five months of its operations,” said President Akufo-Addo.
“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.”
“Working together we’ve already helped to save many lives. And we’re determined to help save many more in the years to come.”
The Global Problem
Access to vital health products around the world is hampered by the last mile problem: the difficulty of matching the supply of medicine from central storage to the demand at urban and rural health facilities.
All too often, people requiring life-saving care do not get the medicine they need when they need it. Zipline’s medical drone delivery system is designed to eliminate this problem.
How Zipline Works
To increase access and reduce medical waste, key stock of blood products, vaccines, and life-saving medications are stored at Zipline’s base for just-in-time delivery. Health workers place orders by text message or call and promptly receive their deliveries in 30 minutes on average.
The drones both take off from and land at Zipline’s base, requiring no additional infrastructure or manpower at the clinics they serve. The drones fly autonomously and can carry 1.8 kilos of cargo, cruising at 110 kilometers an hour, and have a round trip range of 160 kilometers—even in high-speed winds and rain.
Deliveries are made from the sky, with the drone descending to a safe height above the ground and releasing a box of medicine by parachute to a designated spot at the health centers it serves.
Zipline funds the technology and infrastructure. The cost of establishing the new bases in Ghana was supported through partner contributions. The Government of Ghana, with the generous support of corporate social responsibility contributions, pays Zipline only for the medical delivery service itself.