Ensuring universal healthcare delivery


…Zipline charts path for sustainable medical supply chain

Access to medicine remains a priority for citizens and needs to be available at all times in adequate amounts, in appropriate dosage and quality and at an affordable price for individuals and communities.

Currently, nearly two billion people across the world lack reliable access to quality essential medical products such as blood and vaccines due to gaps in supply chains and poor infrastructure, according to World Health Organization (WHO).

To ensure that people have access to essential medicines and to preserve the quality of the medicine, a functioning medicine supply chain is necessary, which includes procurement, appropriate warehousing and efficient transportation to the end user.

Developing countries such as Ghana have several issues with an appropriate supply of pharmaceutical products to health centres (HC). Often the Ministry of Health (MOH) sets up semi-autonomous entities such as a National Level Medical Store (NLMS) and Regional Medical Stores, responsible for the purchase, storage and distribution of medicine and medical supplies to health centres across the country including general hospitals and dispensaries.

Given the huge numbers of people lacking reliable access to quality essential medical products such as blood and vaccines due to gaps in supply chains and poor infrastructure; drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), are one promising option for medical product and vaccine delivery.

Currently, drones are increasingly used globally as a means to transport products including drugs, vaccines, blood, and diagnostic specimens between health facilities

In Ghana, medical commodities – vaccines, medicines and blood – are procured through the government supply chain and distributed via Zipline’s warehouses. This enables facilities to receive products within 45 minutes or less, rather than several days when using traditional complex procurement systems – the turnaround time of the Ghanaian Regional Medical Stores (RMS) in supply ranges from 8-21 days, depending on the facility type, according to USAID.

Since its introduction in 2019, Zipline’s innovative instant delivery services have made over 12 million deliveries made up of medical commodities, routine vaccines, covid-19 samples and vaccines and blood products, fortifying Ghana’s position as the hub of the world’s largest medical drone delivery service.

The work of Zipline in Ghana from April 2019 to date includes delivering some 8.63 million lifesaving medical products or medicines, about 1.9 million child immunisation vaccine consumables, and over 1.4 million covid-19 vaccines and PPEs.

It has also made about 10,000 deliveries of blood products across the country.

Noting the impact of the instant delivery operations in Ghana; General Manager for Zipline Ghana, Mawuli Atiemo indicated that their data and responses from health facilities point out that the innovative medical drone delivery services to the health sector have been enormous.

“The impact is enormous; we cannot underestimate the impact this is having on the country’s health sector. That is why more and more countries are adopting our innovative drone delivery services. If our work in Ghana and Rwanda were not positive; Japan, Nigeria, Kenya and some states in the US wouldn’t have signed up for similar services,” he said.

Indeed, enquiries of some health facilities in some parts of the country revealed a high level of enthusiasm among healthcare providers who had one way or the other gained from Zipline’s innovative instant delivery services.

Zipline has been commended for its impact on healthcare delivery across the country through its timely innovative instant delivery services via drones to about 2,421 health facilities in Ghana. This has dealt with the typical challenges within the national health systems, which impact the supply chains, such as inadequate forecasting, insufficient funds, delays in funding disbursements and long lead times and distribution.

A case in point is the testimony of the Adaklu District Director of Ghana Health Services, Charles Kofi Azagba, who acknowledged that prior to the introduction of the Zipline delivery services, the Adaklu district was faced with the problem of timely delivery of medical supplies, especially in emergency situations.

“We have been using the services of Zipline for the past 6 months. Before the introduction of the zipline, we went through a lot of difficulties in getting medical and non-medical supplies to the various health facilities in the district,” the Director said.

“However, with the coming of Zipline, we rarely run out of stock or when we run out of stock, we easily get to restock our facilities from Zipline. For instance, before Zipline, it was difficult to get medical supplies such as anti-snake and anti-rabies but with Zipline, once the order is made, we get the medical supplies in about 30 minutes,” he added.

Within the rural settings already bedevilled with poverty and high disease burden, and lack of adequate resources to deliver quality healthcare to the population; drug shortage and inadequate number and skill-mix of healthcare providers are very common in rural health facilities.

A Senior Laboratory Technician at the Akatsi District Hospital, Kenneth Owusu Agyemang, expressed the hospital’s experience with Zipline’s medical drone delivery services as a very novel intervention that ensures timely medical supplies to the health facilities.

“The impact of Zipline services has been that of a good intervention, because, without some of the products from Zipline, which has always been timely, we can’t attend to the clients(patients) what we need to do for them. The problem is that we don’t always have supplies in stock because of some impediments. So, by using Zipline services, the supplies come in time to help us,” he said.

Citing some instances of lifesaving situations at the hospital; Mr Owusu Agyemang said, the lives of many patients were saved by the multiple units of blood delivered through Zipline’s timely response by drone delivery.

“There was an emergency case in our maternity ward, where a pregnant woman came in with ectopic pregnancy for which the doctors needed more blood supplies for the patient. We had only one unit of blood available and so had to call Zipline for more. We received three drone deliveries of units of blood, which helped in saving the life of the woman” he said.

Since establishing itself in Ghana in 2019, Zipline Ghana has expanded from one distribution hub to six hubs in remote areas of the country, making Ghana home to the world’s largest fleet of medical-delivery drones.  Zipline delivers up to four pounds (1.8kg) of medical commodities to remote clinics and hospitals within an 80kilometres radius from each distribution hub within minutes.

The General Manager commended the government of Ghana for its partnership and support in helping transform healthcare delivery in Ghana. He hinted that, discussions are underway to pilot the delivery of other use cases in Ghana “just as we currently deliver swine semen and other products in Rwanda”

Leave a Reply