Ghana turns to drones to enable faster Covid-19 testing
Image credit: Australian Associated Press
Ghana is using delivery drones from US-based start-up Zipline to enable officials to test people more quickly outside major cities for the novel coronavirus, the company has said.
According to the latest statistics, Ghana has 834 confirmed infections whilst nine people have died from Covid-19, the disease the virus causes. This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.
It’s the first time that autonomous drones have been used to make regular long-range deliveries into densely populated urban areas, and the first time that drones have been used to deliver Covid-19 test samples.
Zipline, the Silicon Valley-based drone delivery service, operated its first coronavirus test flight at the start of April and will now fly samples collected from more than 1,000 health facilities in rural areas to laboratories in the capital Accra and to Kumasi, the second-largest city.
The service began on 17 April when 51 Covid-19 test samples collected from patients at rural health facilities were transported to Zipline’s distribution centre in Omenako, Ghana.
These 51 samples were packed inside the belly of four Zipline drones, which flew more than a 70 miles round trip to Accra, the capital city, for testing and analysis and were dropped via parachute to waiting medical personnel at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research.
“Zipline is dedicated to helping Ghana in its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic,” said CEO Keller Rinaudo in a statement. “Using contactless drone delivery to transport Covid-19 test samples will allow the government to respond to the pandemic and help save lives more quickly.”
As of 15 April, the Ghana Health Service said it has tested 57,000 coronavirus samples.
Zipline, which already operates fleets of drones in Ghana and Rwanda to deliver blood, vaccines and other essential medical equipment to rural areas, is working with the Ministry of Health to enable the coronavirus sample flights.
Zipline said that drone delivery allows medical officials to sharply reduce the amount of time it takes to obtain test samples from hard-to-reach rural areas. Instead of waiting several days for a batch of samples to be transported by truck, a single test from a rural area can be delivered for analysis in less than an hour.
The company also said it expects to operate the service daily “for the duration of the Government’s Covid-19 response efforts”.
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