SDG: Goal 3 – Good Health and Well-being
Technology: Robotics and Artificial Intelligence
More than two billion people lack adequate access to essential medical products, such as blood and vaccines, due to challenging terrain and gaps in infrastructure (Zipline, 2018). Rwanda has one maternal death for every 344 live births which is 97 times the rate in the top-performing countries in Europe. “More than half of maternal deaths occur after childbirth, and 26 percent are the result of hemorrhaging. Faster, more reliable access to blood could help reduce this number, along with lives lost to accidents and malaria-induced anemia, which is common in small children”. (Rosen, 2017). Rwanda has 58 facilities, mainly hospitals, which carry out blood transfusions. These facilities have a small inventory of blood and need to be continuously restocked. Blood waste occurs because the blood can only survive for 42 days in these facilities.
During emergency transfusion, the stock is often not sufficient, especially when the patient has an uncommon blood type (Rosen, 2017). The patients then needs to be sent to a facility which does have the blood or the blood needs to be collected by car. These transportation efforts over unpaved roads through the hills of Rwanda can be challenging and time-consuming, especially during heavy rainfall. People can lose lives without timely access to blood.
Zipline developed an on-demand delivery service of blood per drone. The drones fly over the impassable mountains and washed-out roads to deliver directly to the remote clinics (Zipline, 2018). Supply is centralized, and the on-demand delivery prevents blood waste or stock-outs. A trip to restock blood or move a patient to a facility with the right blood available can take four hours. A drone delivery reaches a remote facility within 15 minutes (Rosen, 2017). The drone has twin electric motors that could carry a 1.5-kilogram payload and can fly during bad weather. The drone can drop the package with a 5-meter accuracy. The range of the drone is 150 kilometers which allows the drone to serve almost half of Rwanda from the central launch site (Rosen, 2017). The country is densely populated and can therefore be served well by the drones.
The impact of the drones is hard to measure (Rosen, 2017). In 2017 the drones have delivered more than 5,500 units of blood, often during emergency situations (McVergh, 2018). The patients have never received the blood so efficiently and quickly. The service is expanding to Tanzania and the United States in 2018 (Becker, 2018).. The range of products offered is also expected to increase to emergency rabies vaccines; drugs to treat HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria; contraceptives; and diagnostic test kits. The government of Rwanda and Zipline have not released the financial cost and benefits of drone delivery system (Rosen, 2017).
Becker, R. (2018). I launched a blood-delivering drone. The Verge, Retrieved from, https://www.theverge.com/2018/4/13/17206398/zipline-drones-delivery-blood-emergency-medical-supplies-startup-rwanda-tanzania
McVeigh, K. (2018). ‘Uber for blood’: how Rwandan delivery robots are saving lives. The Guardian, Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/jan/02/rwanda-scheme-saving-blood-drone
Rosen (2017). Zipline’s Ambitious Medical Drone Delivery in Africa. MIT Technology Review, Retrieved from https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608034/blood-from-the-sky-ziplines-ambitious-medical-drone-delivery-in-africa/
Zipline (2018). Retrieved fromhttp://www.flyzipline.com/