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Vaccines by air

Gavi Photo Isaac Griberg

Last year, in the largest scheme of its kind, hundreds of drones started delivering vaccines, blood and medicines to patients in the remote areas of Ghana.

One of the key challenges in global health is ensuring safe and effective delivery of life saving interventions to remote and non-clinical settings. This new project, backed by for example Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UPS and Pfizer and led by the robotics company Zipline, is designed to deliver medicines, vaccines and blood to around 2000 health facilities serving 12 million people.

“The ability of the government to supplement routine immunisation on demand will allow us to make sure that there will always be enough life-saving vaccines for every child in Ghana,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi. “This is an exciting development for Gavi that is ultimately going to ensure we leave no one behind and help us protect more children living in remote areas against vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Can carry up to 1.8 kilograms of cargo

Medics will place orders by text message when suppliers run dry, reports Reuters, and drones will fly in from four distribution centers, hover over health posts and drop deliveries using tiny parachutes. Logistics will be managed through Zipline’s hardware and software systems in each of the distribution centres.

Up to 12 routine and emergency vaccines will be available, including shots for yellow fever, polio, measles, meningitis and tetanus, as well as 148 blood products and other critical medicines. The drones fly autonomously and can carry up to 1.8 kilograms of cargo.

The best investment he has ever made

A similar project in Rwanda, which began in 2016, has enabled access to life-saving medical supplies in minutes rather than hours for millions of Rwandan citizens in remote communities, states Zipline. The Government of Rwanda has since expanded the program across the country, making more than 13,000 deliveries to date. Zipline drones now deliver more than 65% of Rwanda’s blood supply outside of the capital, Kigali.

In a recent essay in the Wall Street Journal Bill Gates revealed that the best investment he has ever made was the $10 billion invested in Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative because unlike other kinds of investments, they are consistently successful.

Photo: Isaac Griberg