Africa is cutting the edge and redefining the global trend of commercial drone deliveries, with the world’s first commercial drone delivery service operating from a hill almost in the middle of Rwanda, bringing life saving medicare products to remote clinics in the country and seeking to expand its reach to other neighboring East African countries.
The first drone delivery program in Africa came at a time of hustle and bustle in the world of drone-enabled commerce. It saw its successful implementation in 2016 when plastic sachets of blood were delivered in the East African country as a result of the partnership between the Rwandan government and Silicon Valley based robotics firm, Zipline.
This drone delivery partnership cost the same amount as the motorbike service blood deliveries the country relies on, and so far the country has completed 1,400 blood deliveries, now transporting 20% of the nation’s blood supply outside Kigali.
Road transport which is the most common mode of transport in the continent is time-consuming, coupled with potholes, traffic jams, blocked and underdeveloped road networks. Secondly, the cost of transportation is quite high in African countries compared to other places in the world and drones could be advantageous in Africa.
Transport logistics within Africa is often a nightmare as access to medical facilities and resources in Africa regions can be very constricting for those in rural areas. Even with the need to move from rural settings to urban settings by citizens, its still paramount that people rural areas get options to basic amenities such as emergency medical products.
“Rwanda and Tanzania are showing the world how to use robotic technology to save lives”
Apparently, drone delivery seems to be the latest solution to East Africa’s health care challenges as traffic in the region’s skies is set to increase as the world’s biggest drone delivery system takes off in Tanzania. Tanzania has one of the world’s worst maternal mortality rates at 556 deaths per 100,000 deliveries that hinges on profuse bleeding after birth and the government hope to curb this situation with the drone hi-tech .
Communicable diseases such as HIV and malaria burden the Tanzanian population, and the country continues to suffer from a deficient health care system. Majority, living in the rural and tribal regions of the country lack sufficient access to medical facilities, general health care infrastructure, and basic hygiene practices and these communities continue to suffer from the deficient health care distribution and hopefully the drone delivery system would improve the health sector and save lives.
In his words, the Founder and CEO of Zipline, Keller Rinaudo, said “Rwanda and Tanzania are showing the world how to use robotic technology to save lives”.
The drone delivery launch that is set to take off in January will not only make 2,000 deliveries a day to more than 1,000 health facilities across the east African country of Tanzania, but also create a network to serve the Nation’s 55 million citizen, a huge expansion over the operation in Rwanda, a much smaller country, where the drones currently reach around half of the population of 12 million.
Despite the commercial impact and transport support of drones in the area of health services emergency deliveries in East African countries, some African countries are still skeptical about the tech and measures have been put in place to reduce its capacity to operate in these countries. In Nigeria for instance, licenses for operation are too expensive, Ghana demands that drones are registered and licensed with the threat of substantial jail terms for violators of guidelines, while the use of commercial drones are banned by the Kenyan government on the basis of terror threats.
However, African countries like Malawi has conducted test drone flights in collaboration with UNICEF to deliver infant HIV test kits. Ethiopia and Cameroon permits drone use with certain guidelines that need to be followed and South Africa is more subtle to the commercial use, but still require paper work and do not permit drone use even for fun by anyone below 18.
Zipline intends to expand beyond blood deliveries to providing other high-priority medical products like anti venom and rabies vaccines in Tanzania. The robotic company has in place four drone distribution centers as each distribution center will handle up to 500 delivery flights per day. The Silicon Valley startup Zipline will provide more than 100 drones that will ferry medical products, as well as blood, vaccines, HIV medications, anti-malarials, and emergency medical supplies like res and IV tubes.
In a recent interview, Rinaudo noted that “Africa can be the disruptor. These small agile economies can leapfrog with newer and better systems,” as Rwandan capital, Kigali, is arguable the preeminent proof of both innovative use of technologies and what is bound to happen when governments are open to hi-tech trials.
According to Moses Gichanga, founder of Autonomous Systems Research, a Kenya-based tech consultancy, “agriculture, mineral exploration, security surveillance, and conservation are one of the top areas where drones could be deployed on the continent as there are countless use cases for Africa”.
Without doubt, no program has matched the scale and impact of what is unfolding in these East African countries, Rwanda and Tanzania, despite other countries exploration in drone delivery services. this marks a significant improvement in their health care services and promotes prompt response for emergency situations.