The medical drone programme started this month with the launch of Zipline’s Omenako centre, situated 70 km north of the capital, Accra. It is the first of four centres set for completion by the end of 2019.
According to the news site Quartz Africa, the drones will be able to travel to 500 health facilities within an 80 km range from the Omenako centre, which has been stocked with emergency medicine, vaccines and blood. The delivery programme aims to improve health outcomes, including reducing maternal and infant mortality rates and the waste of medical products as a result of overstocking in hospitals.
Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo told TechCrunch, “We’ll do 600 flights a day and serve 12 million people. This is going to be the largest drone delivery network on the planet.” It will apparently cost Ghana about US$12.5 million over a four-year period.
The company is describing the Ghana programme as the world’s largest drone delivery service and is targeting the “last mile delivery” challenge, which many logistics operators face in African cities and rural areas where road networks are either underdeveloped or poorly maintained.
Founded in 2014, Zipline designs and manufactures its own unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), launch and landing systems and logistics software.
“Healthcare logistics is a US$70 billion global industry, and it’s still only serving a golden billion on the planet,” says Rinaudo. “The economics of our business is pretty simple. We’re using small, electric, fully autonomous vehicles. These kinds of systems are much more efficient than the analogue way of delivering things.”
The company has been making waves in Africa since at least 2016, after solidifying its mission to carve out a global revenue-generating business around UAV delivery of critical medical supplies.
“We’ll be launching in several additional countries, not all of which are in Africa,” said Rinaudo.
UAVs are becoming a staple on the continent. Tech Crunch reports that over the last two years South Africa passed commercial drone legislation to train and licence pilots, and Malawi opened a Drone Test Corridor to African and global partners.
In the same vein, Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania have issued or updated drone regulatory guidelines and announced future UAV initiatives. In addition, the government of Tanzania launched a medical drone delivery programme in 2018, with DHL as one of the main partners.