LAST year, Rwanda achieved and surpassed health-related Millennium Development Goals. MDG4, reducing child mortality; and MDG5, improving maternal health. Key indicators at core for the 15 years of MDGs are the decrease of infant mortality to 32 deaths per 1000, from 109; maternal mortality per 100,000 live births decreased to 210 deaths from 1071; 91% of deliveries are assisted and in health facilities; among others.

Zipline package droppedThis success can be attributed to Universal Health Coverage policies implemented; where, to name a few, each sector has a health center, each district has a hospital and each province has a referral hospital (or near-referral, for some). Additionally, drugs supply chain moved from a pull system—where patients would be seeking drugs after treatment—to a push system, where essential drugs are directly distributed to health centers and district hospitals. This makes it easier for patients to purchase drugs.

With aim to surpass MDGs achievements, the Government of Rwanda is collaborating with Zipline to deliver medical supplies that do not fit into the existing supply chain system.

Here are the impacts that I think drones will make on our health system:

1—Blood, oxygen and emergency drugs supply

We have very few blood collection, manipulation, and Oxygen production centers in Rwanda. And those that exist are mostly located around referral hospitals. Most health centers or district hospitals may not be adequately equipped to store blood bags. With difficulties in predicting the kind of conditions a health facility may encounter, some drugs may not be supplied or just even supplied in small quantities in the usual supply chain system, but can still be needed in an emergency situation.

It usually takes a lot of time to have the blood, oxygen and emergency drug delivered or having a patient transferred, and this usually increase the risk of preventable death or incurable conditions in the process. Having a safer and faster way to deliver blood, oxygen and emergency drugs would significantly reduce maternal mortality, among other preventable deaths.

2—Cold chain and vaccine supply

In order for vaccines to work effectively, stringent handling, transport, and storage guidelines must be precisely followed. Vaccines are fragile biologics, and even slight temperature changes or small delay in transportation can alter their molecular structure, rendering them ineffective or toxic. This apply to other medical supplies that need to refrigerated and frozen.

When it comes to the transport of fragile, refrigerated and frozen vaccines or drugs, there are guidelines for containers and packing materials, specific guidelines for vehicles and drivers, and a need for alternative plans in the event of inclement weather. These guidelines include the use of a calibrated temperature monitoring devices with continuous monitoring and recording capabilities during transport.

Drones are the best alternative for the safe transportation and delivery for cold chain and vaccine supply.

3—Sample transportation for laboratory testing

A high number of patients are transferred from hospital to hospital due to limitations in diagnosis caused by a lack of equipment and capacity to perform laboratory tests locally. This then increase the cost of treatment and burden to patients’ families.

Drones would make it easier to transport blood samples for tests without the need to transfer the patient and the treatment would be optimized without burdening the family with opportunistic expenses.

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