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A drone by American start-up Zipline delivering blood supplies to remote hospitals in Rwanda

Drone blood-delivery service launches in Rwanda

Image credit: Zipline

An American start-up has launched a service in Rwanda on Friday delivering blood supplies to remote hospitals.

Known for its hilly terrain and limited transport infrastructure, the east African country struggles with delivering healthcare supplies especially in emergency situations – something the new technology might help solve.

“Our long-term goal is to deliver the entire medical supply chain,” said Keller Rinaudo, a 28-year-old Harvard graduate and CEO of Zipline, the company that has developed the technology.

“So we plan to deliver vaccines, rabies prophylaxis, anti-venom, oxytocin as well as a whole host of other medical products that hospitals might have run out of.”

Zipline’s 13kg drones, launched by a catapult, will swiftly deliver the needed supplies within an approximately 70km range as they can cover 150km in one trip. Once reaching the destination, they drop the package, which descends safely by a parachute made of a biodegradable material.

The Rwandan government is supporting the project together with delivery giant UPS and vaccination alliance Gavi.

According to Espoir Kajyibwami, medical director of Kabgayi Hospital, the technology will give doctors in remote hospitals access to rare blood types, which they usually don’t keep in stock.

“When we need it we will have it quickly,” he said.

Rwanda uses about 650,000 units of blood per year. About half of that goes to mothers who suffer post-partum bleeding and another third is for children under the age of five who have malaria-induced anaemia.

“It is sustainable investment. It’s not philanthropy,” said Rinaudo. “And we think that’s really important. If this is going to scale to a global reach it is important that there will be a successful business model.”

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