Drone Technology in Africa– The Flying Machines Saving Lives

In a majority of Western countries, the skies have started to get as crowded as the lands. This is what has been holding back the technologically appropriate drones from rendering useful services. The hype created around the technology matches the ground reality. The drone service has, by far, just been used to deliver Amazon Christmas gifts and even pizzas in a couple of cities, whereas, if considered, this technology can deliver so much more useful services. However, the quieter skies of South Africa have witnessed some of the most wonderful uses of the drones.

In the countries of Zimbabwe and South Africa, drones equipped with night vision cameras have been used by the rangers to track poachers. They also assist the security team in navigating their ways through the forests and capturing the poachers. A local startup in Cameroon is selling their aerial techniques of mapping and imaging services to the business firms as well as the government, which involves the use of some very advanced drone technology. Farmers in Sudan are using these services to sow seeds for their crops. The people in African countries seem to have harnessed this technology and use it for the purpose of saving lives as well.

Drones are being used to deliver life saving medicines in countries such as Ghana and Rwanda. The extremely wide horizon of making a meaningful impact was what convinced Gavi, the global vaccine alliance, to nurture and fund the development of drone delivery service in the countries of Africa. Gavi funded the capital costs in partnership with the social arm of delivery giant UPS, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Pfizer. The drones have been exploited to their fullest potential in providing a cheaper, more efficient and more reliable way of delivering just-in-time supplies of medical and other related necessities to rural, remote or nomadic communities as compared to the traditional transport systems of the modern era. A test run of the drone supply system was first conducted in a small, mountainous region of Rwanda in 2016. This proved to be successful in alluring the Ghanaian President and Anthony Nsiah-Asare, Director-General of Ghana Health Service, towards the simple yet very effective way of advancing Africa’s intractable infrastructure by leaps and bounds. Anthony’s enthusiasm, propelled by the aim to provide drugs to people with bad roads, flooding problems and other infrastructural and logistical difficulties, led to the creation of Zipline, now known as the world’s largest drone delivery program.

The service was launched by the Ghanaian government on April 24th, 2016 as part of its integrated health care system and proved itself on the very first day of its operation, when it delivered magnesium sulfate for a woman in labour with dangerously high levels of blood pressure, insulin to a patient in ketosis and lifesaving blood to an injured man. The program has reached to 15 Zips in Rwanda and flown a distance of more than 200,000 miles, delivering 7,000 units of blood in 7,500 on demand flights. An additional base is due to be opened in the coming year which will deploy 30-35 extra drones. The Zipline drones are escalating beyond their original cargo of blood and have initiated the supply of vaccines, HIV medicine, IV tubes, sutures, snake anti venom and drugs for rabies, which is currently responsible for taking lives of around 2,000 people a year.

The new generation of Zip drones that are to be introduced in Tanzania, are being designed to fly further and faster and even with a heavier payload than the current drones are limited to. Apart from saving millions of lives, rapid response plans are being put up to deal with disease outbreaks as soon as they are detected by Zipline in cooperation with Rwandan and Tanzanian governments. In such cases, transporting medicines instantly to cut-off areas will not only save lives, but also lower the risk of highly contagious diseases like Ebola being spread and even running out of control. Early intervention also contributes to saving scarce financial resources.

The western countries are also catching up slowly on the benefits of the technology. Britain has undertaken about five projects to test trial delivery of parcels, medical supplies and organs for the transplant. In America, a thumbs up for the city and state governments to experiment with the technology is expected very soon by the federal administration. Governments in other developing countries are also gearing up to deploy an increasing number of drones as means of healthcare solution and saving more and more lives.

Picture Courtesy- Techgist Africa

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