Humanitarian Relief

Launching lifesaving deliveries by drone in Rwanda

A drone, that will deliver life saving medical supplies and medicine to remote areas, is launched in Rwanda.

Partnership strives to save lives in isolated areas of this African nation.

A young woman in a remote part of Rwanda, in central-east Africa, has just given birth. Postpartum hemorrhaging mandates a lifesaving transfusion. But because of bad weather, most of the roads are washed out and a blood delivery seems impossible.

Once the network is fully implemented, drones could make up to 150 deliveries a day of much-needed blood to 14 health facilities.

Her doctor, however, sends a text message. And in less than 30 minutes, a drone has reached the isolated location and a supply of exactly the blood type the woman needs floats down by parachute. Her story has a happy ending.

This is the type of scenario that has inspired a partnership between UPS, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and Zipline, a California-based robotics company and drone manufacturer. Announced in May, the public-private partnership is exploring the use of drone technology to deliver lifesaving medical supplies to remote areas. The UPS Foundation is providing more than $1 million in cash, in-kind and technical support to help launch this initiative.

"UPS is always exploring innovative ways to enhance humanitarian logistics to help save lives," says Eduardo Martinez, president of The UPS Foundation and chief diversity and inclusion officer at UPS.

The first "nest," which serves as a primary hub for the drones, has just been deployed in the mountainous western part of Rwanda. Two people staff the nest –one to program the drones with the correct GPS coordinates and the other to attach the payload and handle the launch. Up to 16 drones will be launched in the initial phase using a catapult the size of a car.

Once the drone network is fully implemented, it will be able to reach two-thirds of Rwanda's geography and half of its population. At that point, drones could make up to 150 deliveries a day of much-needed blood to 14 health facilities. Plus, plans are in the works to expand the program to the delivery of vaccines and other crucial medicines.

There are two main benefits the new drone medicine delivery network brings to the country's medical supply chain – speed and spoilage prevention.

Since bad road conditions and inclement weather often delay vital medical shipments, the speed of the drone system is essential. And with many rural clinics lacking the ability to safely refrigerate supplies, that immediacy is expected to alleviate temperature control issues.

UPS has long been associated with healthcare-specific logistics, as well as humanitarian efforts, around the globe, and this innovative drone partnership is a natural extension. The project is expected to save thousands of lives over the next three years and could serve as a model for other countries seeking to improve their healthcare supply chains. For a more in-depth look how the partnership between UPS, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and Zipline is saving lives, download this infographic. Read more about how UPS is using drones in other innovative ways. 


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