drone flying

Huge drone network in Tanzania will deliver vital medicine and blood

The world’s largest drone delivery network is being launched in Tanzania in order to deliver blood and medicines to women undergoing childbirth and children infected by malaria.

California’s Zipline will make 2,000 deliveries a day to more than 1,000 health facilities across the east African country, including blood, vaccines and drugs to treat malaria and AIDS, following the success of a smaller project in nearby Rwanda.

“It’s the right move,” Lilian Mvule, 51, said by phone, recalling how her granddaughter died from malaria two years ago.

“She needed urgent blood transfusion from a group O, which was not available,” she said.

Malaria is a major killer in Tanzania and children under the age of five often need blood transfusions when they develop malaria-induced anaemia. If supplies are out of stock, as is often the case with rare blood types, they can die.

Tanzania is larger than Nigeria and four times the size of the United Kingdom, making it hard for the cash-strapped government to ensure all of its 5,000-plus clinics are fully stocked, particularly in remote rural areas.

The drones can fly at 100km per hour, which is much faster than travelling by road in the country. Small packages are dropped from the sky using a biodegradable parachute.

The government also hopes to save the lives of thousands of women who die from profuse bleeding after giving birth.

Tanzania has one of the world’s worst maternal mortality rates, with 556 deaths per 100,000 deliveries, government data has revealed.

“It’s a problem we can help solve with on-demand drone delivery,” Zipline’s chief executive, Keller Rinaudo, said in a statement. “African nations are showing the world how it’s done.”

Companies in the United States and elsewhere are keen to use drones to cut delivery times and costs, but there are hurdles ranging from the risk of collisions with airplanes to ensuring battery safety and longevity.

The drones will cut the drug delivery bill for Tanzania’s capital, Dodoma, one of two regions where the project will first roll out, by $58,000 (£45,000) a year, according to the Department for International Development, one of the project’s backers.

The initiative could also ease tensions between frustrated patients and health workers.

“We always accuse nurses of stealing drugs,” said Angela Kitebi, who lives some 40km east of Dodoma.

“We don’t realise that the drugs are not getting here on time due to bad roads.”

In February, one company started producing edible drones filled with food, water or medicine which were designed to deliver supplies to stranded people in disaster relief areas. 

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