UPS Foundation awards $800,000 grant to support use of drones for medicine and blood delivery in Rwanda

The first impression many have of drones is that it is a killing machine usually deployed by the West on some terrorists in the Middle East. But drones had since changed to life-saving tools with various uses now in drug delivery, blood supply and relief materials supply.

The UPS Foundation is supporting the growth of this new use. Yesterday, it announced a partnership with Zipline, a California­-based robotics company, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to explore using drones to transform the way life-saving medicines like blood and vaccines are delivered across the world.

Zipline is the world’s first international drone delivery service with a mission to bring lifesaving medicine to previously unreachable parts of the world. Recently, the company signed an agreement with the government of Rwanda to make all “last mile” blood deliveries to transfusion clinics across the country.

The robotics company plans to expand its service to countries across Africa and the world in 2016, moving beyond blood delivery to include vaccines, treatments for HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and many other essential and lifesaving medicines. This plan has gotten a boost by the new partnership with the UPS Foundation and Gavi.

This public-private partnership combines a century of global logistics expertise, cold chain and healthcare delivery from UPS with Zipline’s national drone delivery network and Gavi’s experience in developing countries focused on saving lives and protecting health in the most remote places of the world. The UPS Foundation has awarded an $800,000 grant to support the initial launch of this initiative in Rwanda.

“Public-private partnerships are the key to solving many of the world’s challenges, with each partner contributing its unique expertise,” said Eduardo Martinez, president of The UPS Foundation and chief diversity and inclusion officer at UPS.

He expresses UPS’s readiness to always explore innovative ways to enhance humanitarian logistics aimed at saving lives.

Starting later this year, the Rwandan government will begin using Zipline drones, which can make up to 150 deliveries per day of life-saving blood to 21 transfusing facilities located in the western half of the country.

According to the WHO, Africa has the highest rate in the world of maternal death due to postpartum hemorrhaging, which makes access to lifesaving blood transfusions critically important for women across the continent.

“Our partnership with UPS and Zipline is an exciting step into a new territory for the delivery of medical supplies,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “It is a totally different way of delivering vaccines to remote communities and we are extremely interested to learn if UAVs can provide a safe, effective way to make vaccines available for some of the hardest-to-reach children.”

An excited CEO of Zipline, Keller Rinaudo, who noted that the inability to deliver life-saving medicines to the people who need them the most causes millions of preventable deaths each year, said that the new partnership would help solve that problem once and for all.

“With the expertise and vision of UPS, Gavi and Zipline, instant drone delivery will allow us to save thousands of lives in a way that was never before possible,” Rinaudo said.

Zipline hosts an event during the World Economic Forum on Africa in Rwanda on May 13.