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World抯 first national drone delivery service launches

Monday, October 17, 2016 > 09:07:33
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A partnership involving a humanitarian healthcare shipper, a robotics company, the Rwandan government, and delivery and logistics group UPS has launched the world’s first national drone delivery service in Rwanda in a ground-breaking project that has the potential to dramatically improve healthcare provision and logistics across the developing world.

Following the launch yesterday by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, the Rwandan government has begun using drones to make up to 150 on-demand, emergency deliveries per day of life-saving blood to 21 transfusing facilities located in the western half of the country.

The drones and delivery service are built and operated by Zipline, a California-based robotics company. While Rwanda’s drone delivery service will initially focus on blood, an international partnership between UPS, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi), and Zipline will help the country quickly expand the types of medicines and lifesaving vaccines that can be delivered.

Rwanda’s national drone delivery program enables blood transfusion clinics across the Western half of the country to place emergency orders by cell phone text message. The orders are then received by Zipline at its at its distribution centre located in the country’s Muhanga region, where the company maintains a fleet of 15 drones, called Zips.

Each Zip can fly a round trip of up to 150km - even in wind and rain - and carry 1.5kg of blood, which is enough to save a person’s life, the project partners said. Zips take off and land at the ‘Nest’, and make deliveries by descending close to the ground and ‘air dropping’ medicine via a mini-parachute system to a designated spot called a ‘mailbox’ near the health centres they serve.

Zipline will make 50-150 emergency flights a day to 21 transfusion clinics across the Western Half of Rwanda and can fulfil orders in around 30 minutes. Rwanda plans to expand Zipline’s drone delivery service to the Eastern half of the country in early 2017, putting almost every one of the country’s 11 million citizens within reach of instant delivery of lifesaving medicines.

The drone delivery solution aims to solve a problem commonly experienced throughout the developing world, where access to lifesaving and critical health products is hampered by ‘the last-mile problem’: the inability to deliver needed medicine from a city to rural or remote locations due to lack of adequate transport, communication and supply chain infrastructure.

In Rwanda, postpartum haemorrhaging is the leading cause of death for pregnant women. Blood requires storage and transport at safe temperatures and spoils quickly, but because there are many different blood products and no way to accurately project future needs, many transfusion clinics do not keep all the blood they may need in stock.

During Rwanda’s lengthy rainy season, many roads wash out, becoming impassible or non-existent. “The result is that all too often someone in need of a lifesaving transfusion cannot access the blood they need to survive,” the project participants said.

“The inability to deliver life saving medicines to the people who need them the most causes millions of preventable deaths each year around the world. Zipline will help solve that problem once and for all,” said Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo. “We’ve built an instant delivery system for the world, allowing medicine to be delivered on-demand and at low-cost, anywhere.”

Rwandan President Paul Kagame commented: “Drones are very useful, both commercially and for improving services in the health sector. We are happy to be launching this innovative technology and to continue working with partners to develop it further.”

Rwanda and beyond

The commercial partnership between Rwanda and Zipline is expected to save thousands of lives over the next three years, with Rwanda leading the world by using cutting-edge technology to leapfrog the absence of road infrastructure and to provide healthcare access to all its 11 million citizens.

The work in Rwanda is being further supported by an international partnership between Zipline, UPS and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Thanks to a $1.1 million grant from the UPS Foundation, the partnership will study Rwanda’s blood drone delivery operation with an eye towards helping the country quickly expanding the types of medicines and lifesaving vaccines that can be delivered.

“Leveraging UPS’s extensive global supply chain and logistics expertise, Gavi’s deep public health and vaccine knowledge, and Zipline’s cutting edge last-mile delivery technology, the partnership hopes to use the knowledge gained in Rwanda and export it around the world,” the partnership said.

UPS said its logistics expertise and resources were expected to play a critical role in helping the partnership to expand the reach of this important work. The company was actually able to transport the entire Zipline system from California to Rwanda in record time in one of its cargo aircraft, helping to ensure Zipline’s distribution centre could be constructed in just four weeks.

"One of the most important focus areas for The UPS Foundation is to spark public-private partnerships that create powerful scale and drive demonstrable impact in support of global humanitarian aid and relief," said Eduardo Martinez, president of The UPS Foundation and chief diversity and inclusion officer at UPS.

“The shared belief in the ability to save lives through applied innovation, combined with Rwanda’s vision, is now not only poised to advance humanitarian logistics – and logistics as we know it – around the world, but also to save lives. Now is when our partnership between The UPS Foundation, Gavi and Zipline counts most, as we see the first operational missions dedicated to shipping lifesaving blood, and keep our eye on what the future can bring for other life-saving commodities, as well as for other parts of the world.”

Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, commented: “Drones have the potential to revolutionise the way we reach remote communities with emergency medical supplies. The hours saved delivering blood products or a vaccine for someone who has been exposed to rabies with this technology could make the difference between life and death.

“This project will also act as an important test for whether drones are a viable way to improve targeted vaccine delivery around the world. Every child deserves basic, lifesaving vaccines; this technology could be an important step towards ensuring they get them.”

Over the course of the next year, and with the support of the partnership with UPS and Gavi, Zipline plans to expand drone delivery services to countries across Africa and the Americas. Additionally, Zipline recently announced plans at the White House to expand its service to the United States, where it will serve Indian reservations in Maryland, Nevada, and Washington State.

Zipline is a robotics company based in California. The company—which includes seasoned aerospace veterans who previously worked at companies and organizations like SpaceX, Google, Boeing, and NASA—designs and manufactures autonomous aircraft for delivering lifesaving medicine to the world’s most difficult to reach places .

Zipline’s long-term mission is “to build instant delivery for the planet, allowing medicines and other products to be delivered on demand and at low cost without using a drop of gasoline”. Zipline is supported by investors including: Sequoia Capital, Google Ventures, SV Angel, Subtraction Capital, Yahoo founder Jerry Yang, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and Stanford University.

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, is a public-private partnership committed to saving children's lives and protecting people's health by increasing equitable use of vaccines in lower-income countries. The Vaccine Alliance brings together developing country and donor governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry, technical agencies, civil society, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other private sector partners. Gavi uses innovative finance mechanisms, including co-financing by recipient countries, to secure sustainable funding and adequate supply of quality vaccines.

Since 2000, Gavi has contributed to the immunisation of nearly 580 million children and the prevention of approximately 8 million future deaths.

The UPS Foundation leads the logistics group’s global citizenship programmes and is responsible for facilitating community involvement to local, national, and global communities. In 2015, UPS and its employees, active and retired, invested more than $110 million in charitable giving around the world.

 


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