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Rwanda further expands drone deliveries to fight COVID-19

Since 2016, Rwanda has been leading the world in using drones to serve its people. Now that work continues with a new program delivering chemotherapy meds in the era of COVID-19 social distancing.

The coronavirus lockdown has made it harder for people to travel to receive life-saving medications. So Rwanda is bringing in the drones. Last month the Butaro Cancer Hospital, which specializes in oral chemotherapy treatment, received its first shipment of the medications by drone.

“Restrictions on public transport and a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus is the main reason for expansion of delivery of drugs using drones,” officials from the Rwanda Biomedical Center told The East African.

Africa sets the pace

The past weeks have seen several stories of new medicine delivery programs around the world. Just last week, Ireland and Florida got new medical drone delivery pilot projects, for instance. In most countries, such a program is a headline story, often a “first.”

In Rwanda, the chemotherapy deliveries are just an expansion of longstanding practices. Back in 2016, the country began a drone delivery program with US-based Zipline to deliver blood to rural medical clinics. Since then, the country has had thousands of such deliveries.

Zipline has also expanded across the continent to Ghana, which began done delivery of medical supplies in 2019. Recently Zipline and Ghanaian health officials expanded their work more to include the daily delivery of COVID-19 tests to two cities. This shaves from hours to days off the time to get the critical tests to facilities that can process them.

Across Africa, Zipline has now made over 37,000 medical deliveries, with many more happening every day. When it comes to drone deliveries, African nations surely have a lot to teach the rest of the world. With the demands of fighting COVID-19, the will to learn and apply those lessons is now taking root in other nations. Zipline, for instance, is about to begin its first medical delivery service project in the US, in the state of North Carolina.



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Sean Captain is a Bay Area technology, science, and policy journalist. Follow him on Twitter @SeanCaptain.