At this year’s Africa Tech Summit in Kigali, attendees were given the opportunity to get up close and personal with drone aircraft, medical product delivery company Zipline. On the summit stage, Yaniv Gelnick, Zipline’s Global Business Development Lead, gave an outline of Zipline’s past, present, and future.
Zipline in Rwanda
According to Zelnick, Zipline has gone all over the world trying to understand what issues people have with proper access to health, but Rwanda was one of the first countries that gave Zipline the opportunity to help solve the problem.
Rwanda’s lush, hilly topography can add time to the shortest of trips. In the past, hospitals struggled to get medical supplies to patients in a timely manner. Other countries in Africa face a similar problem and are often unable to utilize medical donations because of inefficient channels for delivery.
Zipline’s drones are manufactured, designed and operated by the Zipline team.
“Everybody who runs our Rwandese facilities are entirely Rwandese themselves,” said Zelnick.
In addition to being run by local staff, the facilities which house delivery drones, double as cold storage for medicine and blood, which helps ensure that vital medical resources are well kept.
With an average delivery time of around fifteen minutes, Zipline has been able to send about thirty thousand flights worth of medical products throughout Rwanda. When Zipline started operating in Rwanda, they opened one distribution center, but with the help of the Rwandan government, the company quickly expanded to facilities across the country delivering anywhere from small primary care clinics to large hospitals. Today, all blood outside of Kigali is delivered via drone.
Core to the company’s success in Rwanda has been its delivery system. To order medical products, a medical facility simply sends a message via SMS, What’s App, phone call or “whatever technology is available ”. After the order is received it takes about five minutes to process, package and send. Before the order goes out, Zipline utilizes barcodes to scan and track it, enabling stakeholders and policymakers to have full visibility of the chain of ownership. Zipline then delivers the product via established flight paths approved by the government. Once the drone is within a two-minute range of the drop off-site, a text is sent to the facility’s doctor or nurse notifying them to wait outside for the order.
Launching in Rwanda helped Zipline prove that their logistics system worked. Since Zipline has entered the market, the nation has achieved perfect logistics when it comes to blood, access to products has gone up and three hospitals have reached zero deaths.
Tackling Sickle Cell and Beyond
Today, other countries are taking notice of Rwanda’s success story. Zipline has recently expanded into Ghana, opening up four facilities throughout the country and using its efficient supply system to tackle sickle cell.
“8% of the world’s sickle cell patients are born on the continent and between 50-90 percent of those patients die before the age of 5,” said Zelnick.
Zipline started by targeting villages where children with sickle cell are born. Their logistics system helped lower the cost of delivering sickle cell medicine so much that the Ghanaian government now offers sickle cell medicine for free to Ghananian citizens as part of their basic healthcare packages.
In addition to treating sickle cell patients in Ghana, Zipline’s work has also led to a 50% increase in hospital visits, helped solve the country’s chronic “no bed problem”, and prevented the escalation of costly medical procedures brought on by inadequate medical supplies.
“Zipline is a great example of what happens when regulators are willing to take a risk,” said Zelnick at the Africa Tech Summit.
But, the African continent is not the only place where regulators are taking a gamble. Other regions have learned from Africa and are now ready to take a leap of faith. In North Carolina, Zipline is exploring delivering medicine to people’s homes. In Australia, Zipline is coordinating with the department of defense to deliver emergency resources in times of crisis; and in India, the government has already signed on for ten distribution centers.