Drones transform Rwanda’s healthcare system


Drones deliver medication

from PHYLLIS BIRORI in Kigali, Rwanda
Rwanda Bureau
KIGALI, (CAJ News) – THE deployment of drones by the United States-based Zipline, is hailed for revolutionising medical care in Rwanda.

Zipline is involved in the delivery of blood using the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in the East African country.

The California-based company began operations in Rwanda in 2016 after signing a deal with the government to build a distribution centre in Muhanga in the south.

It sealed a partnership with Save the Children in 2023.

The humanitarian organisation has commended how this has enabled speedy delivery of blood and other medical supplies for women giving birth at Rwanda’s largest refugee camp.

Mahama camp is in the east towards the border with Tanzania. At the end of 2023, Rwanda hosted slightly over 134 000 refugees, 76 percent who are women and children.

The drones are used to replenish the health centre’s small blood bank, which was established as part of the 2023 revamp.

In an emergency, the drones can deliver blood from a medical warehouse to the centre within 30 minutes.

Previously, patients needing blood transfusions, including women suffering from postpartum hemorrhaging, were taken to Kirehe District Hospital about 38km away, a journey which takes about two hours by bad roads.

Each drone is fully autonomous and can travel at 112,65 kilometres per hour, carrying up to two 400ml blood bags in ice to keep the blood at the right temperature.

Save the Children reports that thanks to the use of the drones, referrals to Kirehe have halved in the last year, while births at the refugee camp’s medical centre have doubled to 1 256 between April 2023 and March 2024 compared to 672 the previous year.

Maggie Korde, Save the Children’s Country Director in Rwanda, said access to maternal and newborn healthcare was an essential right for all women and mothers.

“With the renovated medical centre and the introduction of drones, people needing blood transfusions, including women experiencing postpartum hemorrhaging, can now be treated at Mahama camp. These drones are quite simply life-saving,” she said.

The drones deliver whole blood, platelets, frozen plasma, and cryoprecipitate along with medical products, including vaccines, infusions, and common medical commodities.

According to Zipline, as of 2021, more than 75 percent of blood deliveries in Rwanda outside of Kigali use Zipline drones.

A study by researchers at the United States’ Wharton School last year found Zipline’s deliveries had led to a 51 percent reduction in Rwanda of in-hospital maternal deaths due to postpartum hemorrhage.

– CAJ News

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