Six years ago, Rwanda was experiencing a shortage of blood. The little East African country has a population of more over 12 million people, and like individuals in other countries, they are occasionally involved in vehicle accidents. New moms experience hemorrhaging. Children who are anemic require transfusions as soon as possible. You have no way of knowing when an emergency may strike. They just happen to be there. The red material stored in Place A must be transported to a patient in Place B as quickly as possible after they have done so.
Fortunately, if you live in a city, this isn’t a major issue. When it comes to metropolitan centres with high-traffic hospitals and blood banks, the United States and the United Kingdom have 80 percent of the population clustered around them. In African countries such as Libya, Djibouti, and Gabon, around 80 to 90 percent of the population lives in urban areas as well. In Rwanda, however, the situation is reversed: 83 percent of the population lives in rural regions. As a result, when outlying hospitals need blood, it was customarily delivered by truck.
That’s not the best situation. The terrain is primarily mountainous. Roads may be hot, lengthy, and rough, especially in the summer. Given blood may be preserved for a month or two if kept cold, but key components of donated blood that hospitals isolate for transfusions—such as platelets—will perish in a matter of days if not kept cool. With such fussy goods, a tumultuous driving is not the best fit.
Because of the logistical challenges, rural hospitals have typically been encouraged to obtain more blood than they require. “There was an issue of overstocking,” says Marie Paul Nisingizwe, a PhD candidate in Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia who concentrates her study on Rwanda, her native country. “There was an issue of overstocking,” she adds. Stocking up on a few additional items now might save you time later. However, if a low-traffic institution did not end up using the blood before it expired, they would be forced to dispose of it in the trash.
Rwanda’s government secured a deal with Zipline, a drone business located in San Francisco, in 2016 to simplify blood supplies around the country. The blood would be transported by Zipline’s autonomous drones from a distribution center to a medical institution of choice. An IV bag containing blood would be dropped from the sky into an insulated cardboard box, and the drone would zoom back up into the sky. Today, Zipline has two hubs in Rwanda, each of which is capable of processing up to 500 packages each day.
And now, for the first time, there is evidence that drone blood services increase delivery speed while also decreasing waste. Nisingizwe, writing in the April edition of Lancet Global Health, examined over 13,000 drone orders placed between 2017 and 2019 and discovered that half of the goods were delivered by drone in 41 minutes or less. The average travel time would be at least two hours if you were driving. The number of reports of wasted blood donations has decreased.
The research is the first of its kind in Africa, and it examines medical delivery drones. In higher-income nations, drone programs are increasingly frequent, and they are used to carry medication and defibrillators, among other things. As Nisingizwe points out, “It’s incredible to realize that the delivery drone is indeed practical in African environments.” (Zipline is not linked with her study team in any way.