A Blog by Jonathan Low


Apr 22, 2021

How Drones Are Delivering Covid Vaccines In Africa

For people isolated due to poor roads, rivers and other obstacles, drone delivery is a useful if not yet scalable solution. 

Though 2.5 million Covid vaccines delivered in the next year is not insignificant. JL

Emmett Smith reports in Mashable:

Zipline operates from a distribution center that is part drone port, part fulfillment warehouse. (It) is able to deliver  directly to health facilities to avoid the need to store the vaccine. We are able to do multiple deliveries in a day. Each drone can carry up to 100 doses of vaccines. We fly on "highways in the sky" that are preplanned and predeveloped. When it reaches the health facility, it hovers at 10 meters above ground and releases a box in a parachute that lands at a predesignated area.  Zipline plans to deliver over 2.5 million COVID-19 vaccines across Ghana in the next 12 months.

Zipline is expected to deliver over 2.5 million COVID-19 vaccines in Ghana alone.

ISRAEL BIMPE: In Africa, in particular, I think the challenges are obvious in terms of how fast we can reach the different health facilities, how efficiently we can distribute across vast lands of countries in different parts of the continent. And secondly, especially with COVID-19, it's that vaccines tend to be scarce, you don't have enough for everyone, and you need to make sure that the right person is receiving the right vaccine at the right time.

And that's why the WHO has decided the phasing approach on who gets to receive the vaccine and what priority. In Ghana, we've actually delivered more than, I believe, more than 11,000 doses of AstraZeneca COVID vaccines that the Ghanaian government has been receiving. And over the next 12 months or so, we will be able to deliver up to 2.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

RICHARD ESSIEN: I must say that Ghana is currently implementing the phase two of vaccination, which is targeting healthcare workers. As we speak now, we have received about, I think, exactly 280 doses of the COVID vaccine, as a district. And that is slightly more than the number of healthcare providers in the district, so that's the demand, as far as the healthcare workers' vaccination is concerned.

- For Richard, these drone deliveries are making a huge impact. His population includes over 106,000 people. Many of those people live on islands or areas that are simply cut off by rivers or insufficient infrastructure. What that means is that, even when there's a suspected COVID case, it can take days just to send the sample to the labs in Accra, which is Ghana's capital, and then come back.

There's a ferry that needs to be taken across a river bank and there's hundreds of kilometers of dirt road to be traveled. It's safe to say that it's not an easy journey to make. When it comes to delivering vaccines across a very scattered population, the problem obviously gets much more complicated.

RICHARD ESSIEN: Apart from the island communities and the rest, we have communities which are close to 80 kilometers from the district capital. And I'm not talking about 80 kilometers of asphalted road. No, 80 kilometers of dusty roads. And Zipline is able to deliver vaccines directly.

ISRAEL BIMPE: Zipline operates from a distribution center that, I would say, is part drone port, part fulfillment warehouse. And so we receive the vaccines from a central location, let's say, the central medical store. And then, at Zipline, we store the vaccines and are able to deliver them directly to health facilities. And oftentimes, it's the health worker who's about to administer the vaccines.

So to avoid the need for the health facility to either store the vaccine so that they don't go to waste or anything, we deliver them exactly when they are needed. And we are able to do multiple deliveries in a day, multiple deliveries over a week. Each of our drone can carry up to 100 doses of vaccines. We now fly on what we, kind of, call "highways in the sky" that are preplanned and predeveloped.

Each of our drone is launched and flies autonomously to each of those health facilities. And when it reaches the health facility, it, you know, hovers over the facility at about 10 meters above ground and releases a box in a parachute that lands very gently at a predesignated area at the health facility. And the health worker can pick the drone and quickly start the administration of vaccines right away.

- And we're not just talking about COVID vaccines here. Zipline is helping Ghana and other countries deliver other vital vaccines, as well. The COVID pandemic has greatly disrupted the regular immunization efforts all across the globe. And, unfortunately, kids are often the ones being hardest hit.

RICHARD ESSIEN: I must also say that, apart from the COVID vaccine, Zipline has bridged this gap with even the routine childhood vaccinations that are given to children. So children, who were born in Ghana, are vaccinated against tuberculosis with the BGC, you have the Penta vaccines, you have the measles, rubella vaccines, the yellow fever vaccine, the meningitis subtype A vaccines, the rotavirus vaccine, the tetanus, diphtheria vaccine, and others, which are all given to children routinely from birth to 18 months.

- Effective and equitable global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is absolutely crucial to overcoming this pandemic. But as mass vaccination efforts continue to prioritize rich countries, as well as individuals living in urban areas and cities, the risk of new mutations and strands spreading rapidly remains pretty high. Zipline plans to deliver over 2.5 million COVID-19 vaccines across Ghana in the next 12 months. This is an important opportunity to test out this new infrastructure in Africa and use it to help deliver vaccines and other crucial medical supplies to some of the most vulnerable and remote communities across the world.


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