Medical drones crucial for fight against COVID-19 in Africa – Zipline Country Manager


As nations look to transform their healthcare delivery services, particularly in the wake of COVID-19, an even distribution of medical commodities and vaccines to all citizens is crucial, health technology enthusiast and Country Manager for Zipline, Naa Adorkor Yawson, has said.

In her estimation, technology, particularly unmanned ariel vehicles (UAVs), have the potential to bridge the health infrastructure gap by allowing for the delivery and pickup of medication and test kits for patients in all parts of the country irrespective of physical barriers created as a result of bad roads or long travel distances.

“The benefits of technology have long been known but perhaps, the past year has brought it to the fore for many and no less when applied to healthcare delivery. Drone technology could see many of our infrastructural challenges such as the no-bed-syndrome being less of an issue,” she explained.

Whilst acknowledging that this would not be a replacement for hard infrastructure, she suggests that the procurement of relevant technology would ordinarily happen at a significantly more rapid pace than the construction of buildings and roads.

“The rapid delivery of medications, including vaccines right to the end-user could perhaps be the key to limiting outbreaks of life-threatening communicable diseases. For patients, who are perhaps confined to being indoors, blood samples can be drawn and immediately sent by drone to the lab to be tested. Antibiotics and other treatments ordered by the provider may be delivered to the home by drone,” she stated.

Specific to administering of the COVID-19 vaccines, “the world has come to agree that until the last person is vaccinated, no one person is safe. That is why we have offered our support to Ghana and the world by way of delivering these vaccines to the very hard-to-reach areas in real time. The challenge of having to immediately invest in cold chain infrastructure is removed as we already have that technology which enables us also to deliver just the quantity that will be required at any given time”

Her sentiments are consistent with those expressed by other professionals and institutions such as the World Economic Forum, which suggests that UAVs could convey communication equipment, mobile technology, and portable shelter, amongst others, in a rapid fashion to areas where critical infrastructure damage would prevent ground or typical air transport.

“The future could see Artificial Intelligence-powered medical drones deliver organs for surgeries, or even something as basic as meals to persons who do not have much family around.”

Wider applications

Touching on the wider application of technology to healthcare delivery, the Zipline Country Manager said she expects mobile devices, wearable tech, remote monitoring, telemedicine and information sharing platforms to play a bigger role.

“In the foreseeable future, it is safe to say that even locally, drones, robots and artificial intelligence will assume many tasks in healthcare that are performed by humans. This will invariably lead to greater efficiency.

For instance, a surgeon in an urban area could safely give instructions to a nurse in a peri-urban area where there is an emergency, and she is not too sure what to do. Seeing that we have a perennial shortage of doctors, this could be a game changer in solving this problem,” she said.

Allaying fears that the rise in the use of technology would see a sector as critical as healthcare prone to cyber-attacks, she said, whilst it is inevitable that attempts would be made by ill-intentioned persons to compromise systems, service providers are well aware and investing heavily in security.

Speaking specifically about her outfit, she said: “An appreciable portion of our resources are used to ensure that our systems are almost impervious to attacks. For instance, with the Zipline drones, in the almost unlikely event that they deviate from their set course, we are well informed in real time. It is no coincidence that the drones do not crash but as they are equipped with parachutes to aid them para-land in the event of an emergency.”

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