The Last Mile Problem

Rwanda is in East Africa. It is one of Africa’s smaller countries, with a population of about 11 million. It has beautiful mountains and lakes, but these make travelling difficult, especially during the rainy season. This, of course, presents many kinds of different problems. One of them has been supplying blood to remote areas for blood transfusions. Modern technology, however, is offering a solution to this problem.

When people lose blood, it must be replaced quickly by a blood transfusion. In Rwanda, bleeding after giving birth to a child is the leading cause of death for pregnant women. Blood is difficult to keep, and it has to be stored at the correct temperature. There are also different kinds of blood types and blood products. Smaller hospitals and medical centres do not keep large supplies. When those hospitals or clinics are in a rural or remote location, there is often a lack of the required transportation and communication. This is known as the ‘last mile problem’. 

 

A California-based company called Zipline has developed a brilliant solution. It set up a distribution centre in Rwanda where it keeps 15 drones called ‘Zips’. Within the centre is a facility to keep large amounts of different blood types and products. Clinics in rural areas can order blood via text message to the centre. The centre prepares a package of blood and loads it onto a Zip. The Zip is launched and flies to the clinic, dropping the package, which is attached to a parachute. There is no need for the Zip to land. Once the parachute is released, the drone turns around and returns to the centre.

A Zip can fly up to 150 kilometres carrying a 1.5 kilogramme package of blood. That’s enough to save one person’s life. The Zip is also able to fly in strong wind and rain. Today, up to 150 Zip flights are made each day delivering to 21 clinics around Rwanda. Most orders can be delivered within 30 minutes.

 

The new service has been described as the beginning of a revolution in the supply of medical care in rural parts of Africa. Already, Zipline and Rwanda’s government are looking for other ways in which this amazing drone delivery service can be developed to improve the lives of Rwandans.

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