- Beneficiary describes it as ‘most important’ sector intervention
- In-country success prompts Nigeria to follow suit
As healthcare delivery systems across the globe continue to reel from the crushing effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with supply chains severely hampered, medical drone delivery service, Zipline, is augmenting the nation’s system by making a minimum of 400 deliveries of emergency medical supplies daily.
Originally focused on the delivery of some 148 Ghana Health Service- approved medical products, blood and blood products to hard-to-reach areas, the company, which commenced operations in the country in 2019, has expanded its repertoire of products to the delivery of COVID-19 samples and vaccines, with the advent of the coronavirus proving to be a crucial support system.
Data available from Zipline shows that as at May, 2021, the company had made about 648,257 deliveries of supplies in various categories in 25 months of operation from its distribution centers in Vobsi in Walewale in the North East Region; Omenako in the Eastern Region; Mampong in the Ashanti Region; and Sefwi-Wiawso in the Western North Region.
A careful perusal of the data made available by Zipline revealed that a total of 416, 624 units of critical and life-saving medical products, including snake antivenom had been delivered; as well as 3675 blood products and 227, 958 units of vaccines for chickenpox, measles and polio, among others.
Others include 5,600 COVID-19 test samples, without any need for additional significant state investment in cold-chain storage.
Most important intervention
Commenting on the real-life effects of Zipline’s operations, the Senior Nurse-in-Charge at the Mankrong Health Center, Augusta Ampah Ghartey, whose facility has been a constant beneficiary of the drone services, stated that on account of its impact – direct and otherwise – on health outcomes and livelihoods, as well as its model, Zipline might represent the most important technological intervention in the country’s medical history.
She reasoned that the impact of the deliveries on the number of emergency hospital referrals, especially in city centers, would be significant.
With Road Traffic Accidents (RTAs) which currently is 8th leading cause of death globally and the 10th leading cause in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA), resulting in more than 1.4 million deaths per year worldwide in 2016 and 284,000 in SSA, according to the WHO, she argued that this would save lives on a number of fronts.
Whilst not a substitute for the improving road networks, she added that the technology has leapfrogged that barrier due to its potential to connect remote areas to health supplies relatively quickly compared to using land transportation.
“This is an incredible intervention and a testament to the impact technology can have in every area of our national life but especially healthcare delivery. The drone deliveries have not only gotten needed medical supplies to persons on time, it has also reduced the need for road travel, which has its own inherent dangers and the reduction in referrals is saving lives and improving efficiency of the scarce medical personnel. It might perhaps be the most important intervention in the nation’s medical history to date,” she said in an interview with the B&FT.
Currently, Zipline maintains its own storage facilities, including high-end fridges; this helps to reduce wastage from unused medication. Also, in its contract with the state, there is a stipulation that the company must meet minimum deliveries per month to receive payment from the government, through a Fund endowed by development partners.
Touching on how these arrangements ensure efficiency for all involved, Country Manager for Zipline, Naa Adorkor Yawson says: “It is not always economically prudent for every health center to maintain its own hardware. If you look at the total cost of maintaining fridges, if we are to take vaccines as a use-case, health facilities like those in most of the remote areas would require heavy investments into electricity or solar installations, which more expensive compared to what we offer.
For many hard-to-reach areas, transportation is over rivers and sometimes with motorcycles. It is just not efficient to carry an entire truck to facilities which are sparsely located at sometimes, six hours apart,” she said.
Catching the neighbour’s eye
It has come as no surprise then, to hear that Nigerian States – Kaduna and Cross River – have engaged the services of Zipline for the delivery of emergency medical supplies. It is expected that the operations will serve as a blueprint for wider adoption in Africa’s most populous nation.
The Country Manager further disclosed that Zipline intends to expand its operations with more distribution centers to serve more than 12 million people who access various facilities, including the 1,410 functional CHPS compounds in the country.