In Africa, a US startup says it is reducing that risk by using drones to deliver medical supplies to local clinics, and freeing up hospital beds in the process.
Zipline, based in San Francisco, has used drones to deliver blood and medical products to hospitals and health centers in Rwanda since 2016. Last year, it expanded to Ghana and now it wants to accelerate plans to begin deliveries in the United States.
Zipline has two distribution centers in Rwanda and four in Ghana, built to speed up the transport of medical supplies in areas with poor roads and a lack of refrigerated vehicles.
Doctors order products from their phones and drones make the deliveries within a 50-mile range, in an average of 30 minutes, according to Zipline. The drones can carry packages weighing almost 4 pounds (1.8 kilos) and drop them to a designated area on the ground using a simple paper parachute.
Zipline says that it has already delivered over 60,000 units of blood, critical medicines and vaccines for measles, polio and other diseases. Now the company is working with the governments of Rwanda and Ghana to support their coronavirus response efforts, explains Zipline co-founder and CEO Keller Rinaudo.
Zipline was already planning to launch in the United States later this year and is now hoping to provide coronavirus assistance there, too.
Access to specialty drugs for non-coronavirus patients can be a problem in rural US communities. Zipline hopes that by distributing products that would otherwise only be available at hospitals, it can protect patients and free up beds, just as it’s doing in Africa. It could also distribute test kits, PPE, and vaccines, once available.