You are here: HomeNews2019 04 24Article 740921

General News of Wednesday, 24 April 2019


Drone medical supply service game changer – Doctor

Dr Kobena Awotwe Wiredu, the Medical Superintendent of the New Tafo Government Hospital in the Abuakwa North Municipality of the Eastern Region, has hailed the government’s introduction of the use of unmanned aircraft systems to provide drone-enabled supplies of essential healthcare products to hospitals and other health facilities.

With the hospital being the first to benefit from the innovation and having witnessed the efficiency of deliveries, Dr Wiredu said anyone involved in human healthcare and abreast of the number of deaths caused by the delay in procuring and administering essential health products, will appreciate the importance of the new intervention.

Dr Wiredu told Class91.3FM ahead of the official launch of the USA-based Zipline services in Ghana by President Nana Akufo-Addo that he is “excited about the whole idea”.

In his view, the innovation is “very appropriate and [a] brilliant alternative that will reduce fatalities in our country”.

Dr Wiredu explained on Tuesday, 23 April 2019 after final test flights through which polio and yellow fever vaccines were delivered, that accessing medical supplies from the Koforidua Regional Hospital takes between four to five hours. However, with the new intervention, it takes less than 30 minutes to complete the whole process and have the requested package delivered to the hospital.

“If a patient is in a bad situation clinically and then it takes you about five hours, you might not come to meet the patient alive. So, with the Zipline and the drone technology and the delivery of essential products (pharmaceutical products, blood and blood products, laboratory reagents etc.) I think that it has really come in to help us a lot,” he stressed.

The drone service will help hospitals receive medical packages between 15 to 17 minutes after making requests via WhatsApp or SMS.

After a request is made, the Zipline centre sends a message to the hospital staff to confirm the order. Another message is sent to the hospital as soon as the drone is launched and then the hospital is prompted again five minutes to delivery. The package is released from beneath the drone to a programmed drop zone at the hospital premises and health officials can pick the requested order to be administered to patients immediately and the aircraft continues its flight back to base.

Zipline’s primary base is the Omenako Centre which will serve the Eastern, Volta and parts of the Ashanti regions. After the official launch of the project, three other distribution centres will be completed within the year and equipped with 120 aircraft collectively to serve areas within a radius of 80km across the country to provide about 150 medical products to 2000 health facilities.

Zipline has been contracted to make 150 deliveries from each of the four bases daily but scalable to 500 deliveries from each base on a daily basis.

The cost of the project is estimated at $12 million for the technology and $17 per delivery. Even though the Minority in Parliament has kicked against the project, advocates have highlighted the importance of the service in saving lives.

Ammama Saad, a 22-year-old mother of a set of twins whose babies received the vaccine injections expressed delight about the process.

“I am happy about the delivery and I’m positive that it will help everyone…I saw something like an aircraft passing over the hospital. I was wondering what was going on but I was told it contains vaccines so I needed to bring my babies to have the injections,” She said.

Meanwhile, Zipline Head of Communications, Justin Hamilton, has explained that a population of about 12 million in Ghana will benefit from the project.

He said the project “is led by Ghanaians” with the deployment of “the most cutting-edge robotic systems and most advanced autonomous aircraft engineers from Ghana”.

He further pointed out that the aircraft can withstand adverse weather conditions adding that “the planes can fly in high winds and rain”.

The service will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Ghana Health Service (GHS) has selected 148 lifesaving medical products to be stocked at Zipline’s four distribution centres nationwide. Zipline will guarantee delivery of those products upon request to any of the thousands of health facilities served.

Each of the four distribution centres will be staffed by a team of 35 Ghanaian engineers and logistics personnel, equipped with at least 20 drones.. The drones can carry 1.75 kilos of cargo, cruising at 110 kilometres an hour, and have an all-weather round-trip range of 160 kilometres.