Drone Network in Rwanda Transforms Delivery of Blood and Vaccines

California-based robotics company Zipline and Gavi the Vaccine Alliance have formed a partnership with the UPS Foundation to use drones to transport life-saving blood and vaccines.

All too often, critical health products spoil or fail to reach the individuals who urgently need them. This public-private partnership combines a century of global logistics expertise, cold chain, and healthcare delivery from UPS with Zipline’s national drone delivery network and Gavi’s experience in developing countries focused on saving lives and protecting health in the most remote places of the world.

The UPS Foundation has awarded an $800,000 grant to support the initial launch of this initiative in Rwanda.

"Public-private partnerships are the key to solving many of the world’s challenges, with each partner contributing its unique expertise," said the UPS Foundation’s president and chief diversity and inclusion officer Eduardo Martinez. "UPS is always exploring innovative ways to enhance humanitarian logistics to help save lives, and we’re proud to partner with Gavi and Zipline as we explore ways to extend the Rwandan government’s innovations at a global scale."

Starting later this year, the Rwandan government will begin using Zipline drones, which can make up to 150 deliveries per day of life-saving blood to 21 transfusing facilities located in the western half of the country. According to WHO, Africa has the highest rate in the world of maternal death due to postpartum hemorrhaging, which makes access to lifesaving blood transfusions critically important for women across the continent.

"Our partnership with UPS and Zipline is an exciting step into a new territory for the delivery of medical supplies," said Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance’s chief executive officer Dr. Seth Berkley. "It is a totally different way of delivering vaccines to remote communities and we are extremely interested to learn if UAVs can provide a safe, effective way to make vaccines available for some of the hardest-to-reach children."

While Rwanda’s national drone network is initially focused on the delivery of blood supplies, the plan is to expand the initiative to include vaccines, treatments for HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and many other essential and lifesaving medicines. Rwanda’s drone delivery operation is expected to save thousands of lives over the next three years and could serve as a model for other countries.

"The inability to deliver life-saving medicines to the people who need them the most causes millions of preventable deaths each year. The work of this partnership will help solve that problem once and for all," said Zipline’s chief executive officer Keller Rinaudo. "With the expertise and vision of UPS, Gavi and Zipline, instant drone delivery will allow us to save thousands of lives in a way that was never before possible."

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance is a public-private partnership committed to saving children’s lives and protecting people’s health by increasing equitable use of vaccines in lower-income countries. The Vaccine Alliance brings together developing country and donor governments, WHO, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry, technical agencies, civil society, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other private sector partners. Gavi uses innovative finance mechanisms, including co-financing by recipient countries, to secure sustainable funding and adequate supply of quality vaccines. Since 2000, Gavi has contributed to the immunisation of an additional 500 million children and the prevention of approximately 7 million future deaths.

Zipline is a robotics company based in California. The company works with governments to provide reliable access to medical products at the last mile. Zipline’s long-term mission is to build instant delivery for the planet, allowing medicines and other products to be delivered on demand and without using a drop of gasoline. Zipline is supported by some of the smartest investors in the world, including Sequoia Capital, Google Ventures, SV Angel, Subtraction Capital, Yahoo founder Jerry Yang, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and Stanford University.

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