Ghana is the first African country to ease its lockdown in response to the coronavirus. The country is using drones to deliver samples collected in more than 1,000 health facilities across the country.
Ghana is using a unique approach to reduce the amount of time it takes to get COVID-19 test samples from remote rural areas to labs: drones. Instead of waiting for days for a batch of samples to be transported by truck, tests from rural areas can be delivered for analysis in less than an hour.
The Ministry of Health expanded its partnership with Zipline, an American company that uses drones to deliver medical supplies. Zipline has set up a system to deliver samples collected in more than 1,000 health facilities across the country.
Zipline’s drones are automated, but they’re also being monitored and, when needed, controlled, by humans. On April 17, on Zipline’s first flight, 51 samples were flown from the Omenako drone distribution center to the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research in Accra, 45 miles away, in what could be the first time that drones have been used to deliver COVID-19 test samples.
The COVID-19 test samples are packed in special red boxes using guidelines issued by the World Health Organization and then placed inside the belly of the drone. The drone is then put on a launcher, and it’s off to its destination for delivery.
Since its launch in October 2016, the company’s autonomous drones have flown more than 2 million miles and delivered more than 60,000 vaccines, units of blood and other medical products in Ghana, Rwanda and India.
Before the Covid-19 outbreak, Zipline planned to launch U.S. operations in the fall of 2020, delivering to health facilities and homes. As the outbreak has worsened, the company has been working with the FAA on the necessary approvals needed to operate commercially, and says that they could do so within weeks of receiving said approval. According to a company statement, their emergency efforts in the U.S. would focus on the distribution of scarce resources like test kits and personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and masks, as well as Covid-19 vaccines once they become available.
Zipline ranked No. 39 on the 2019 Disruptor 50 list. The 2020 Disruptor 50 list will be revealed this June.