Drones zip over Rwanda, leaving a trail of blood. The California-based company Zipline has been operating in Rwanda since fall 2016.
As of Oct. 2017, Zipline drones have delivered 2,600 units of blood over the course of 1,400 commercial flights. Zipline has designed and built drones that can carry 1.5 kilograms of blood at a time, and the “Zips” can fly 150 kilometers (93 miles) before needing a charge.
The service that Zipline has implemented allows medical professionals around Rwanda to order blood supplies on their phones.
A vast majority of these blood supplies go to mothers who suffer from postpartum hemorrhaging or children with anemia.
Severe blood loss due to postpartum hemorrhaging is one of the biggest causes of women dying in childbirth.
Rural hospitals in Rwanda are usually hard to access over land due to the poor road conditions.
The rural hospitals also have trouble keeping enough of specific blood types without the units of blood expiring. The use of drones to deliver blood has allowed small rural hospitals to request and receive blood for transfusions.
According to CNN, “the demand for such a service in Rwanda is clear.”
On average, necessary supplies can be delivered within 30 minutes of the order. According to CNN, each delivery project is estimated to cost anywhere between $15 and $30, the same as it would currently cost by motorbike.
Zipline has announced a partnership with Tanzania, and it has plans to implement the drone delivery system in early 2018.
The Tanzanian program will expand to four distribution centers around the country. The drones will service over 1,000 different facilities around Tanzania, and the program also intends to expand to deliver HIV medication, vaccines, antimalarial drugs and other necessary medications.
Zipline hopes to help Tanzanian health professionals prevent disease outbreak and raise the quality of life. In the medical practice, a quick response can save a life or prevent the outbreak of a disease.
Zipline has hopes to bring their “Zips” back to their home country and service the United States in the future.
The prospects for drone-delivered blood in the United States are poor, as the current government regulations for drone flight are not favorable.
Other companies have made a push in the drone delivery system, and one company, Flirtey, made a commercial drone delivery of drugs to a medical center in rural Virginia.
The goal is for these drone delivery services to provide necessary supplies to rural areas of states like Maryland and Pennsylvania, where falling rocks and flooding rivers can lead to major delays.
Drone delivery is no longer something from science fiction. Over the course of the next five years, drone delivery services will become a part of the world’s infrastructure.
The success of Zipline in Rwanda and the growth in Tanzania are prime examples of how a national drone delivery service can vastly improve the accessibility of healthcare necessities.