The Ghanaian Government and California-based automatic logistics company Zipline have launched a drone delivery network to distribute 148 priority products, including vaccines, blood products and medications, on demand to patients across Ghana.

Zipline’s service will operate from four distribution centres, each with 30 drones, and deliver to 12,000 healthcare facilities and reach an estimated 12 million people; it will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will be able to manage emergency and routine deliveries.

According to Zipline, each distribution centre has an 80km service radius and can make 500 deliveries a day, which totals one ton of medical and blood products. Additionally, deliveries can be made in any weather conditions and take an average of 30 minutes.

The Ghana launch builds upon Zipline’s pilot scheme in Rwanda, which began in 2016. Initially it targeted hard-to-reach, remote areas, but the Government of Rwanda expanded the network to include the entire country. There have been 13,000 deliveries to date and it has been estimated Zipline drones distribute 65% of blood outside of the capital city, Kigali.

The two schemes have been supported by the UPS Foundation and global vaccine alliance Gavi, but the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Pfizer have added their support to the Ghana project.

Gavi CEO Dr Seth Berkley said: “The ability of the government to supplement routine immunization on demand will allow us to make sure that there will always be enough life-saving vaccines for every child in Ghana.

“This is an exciting development for Gavi that is ultimately going to ensure we leave no one behind and help us protect more children living in remote areas against vaccine preventable diseases.”

The UPS Foundation has provided $3m of capital for the Ghana-Zipline scheme; $2.4m in funding and $600,000 in shipping services. In addition, it will provide its unique expertise on Ghana’s supply chain.

The foundation’s president and UPS chief diversity and inclusion officer Eduardo Martinez said: “The program’s ongoing success in Rwanda demonstrates that the collective effort of a public-private partnership focused on advanced supply chain technologies can enhance access to life-saving medical commodities throughout Africa.

“We are inspired to see technology and supply chain expertise used to help save lives and honoured to be part of this public-private collaboration.

“We acknowledge the visionary Ghana Government and Gavi for their dedication to helping improve the health of communities in Ghana and around the world, and Zipline, for their leading-edge technology and passion to advance community health systems.”