[Translation] How drones in Ghana deliver vital medicines

[Translation] How drones in Ghana deliver vital medicines

The new Zipline drones delivery service helps nurses, such as Gladys Dede Tete and her team, receive life-saving vaccines and medications

New Tafto-Akim is a town in the east of Ghana . It is located 2.5 hours north of the country's capital, Accra, on a single-lane highway, the cover of which gradually becomes more and more speckled with holes, and then completely disappears, turning the road into a dirt road. And everything is covered in a thick layer of red mud.

The district hospital is a rare concrete building in this area. This is a complex of single-storey buildings that have gathered around the courtyards, where chickens roam. The paved area serves as a waiting room in the clinic for vaccinations. On it, mothers with babies are quietly exhausted from the heat in the thick and humid air on wooden benches. District nurse Gladys Dede Tetteh and her team put protective scratches on their tiny thighs, but their yellow fever vaccine has ended. They were waiting for the arrival of 35 children, and 41 arrived, including a couple of twins.

Vaccines are stored for a short time, and should be kept in dry conditions with temperature limitation, so it is inconvenient to order them with a reserve. But Aunt knows that if she refuses these women, many of whom have walked quite a long distance, there is a chance that they will not return at all, and the opportunity to protect their children will be lost. She pulls out the phone and sends a free text message asking for six additional vaccines.

Instant Response

After 15 minutes, the phone of the Aunt is ringing, and I follow her to a grassy yard covered with intersecting wires, which is barely enough to park a couple of cars. High in the sky already visible glare from a toy plane like. He silently approaches us, making a loop in the form of a figure of eight, like a hawk tracking down prey.

Suddenly, he flies over us, and, crossing the courtyard, opens his small hatch, from which a box falls, flying down on a parachute of wax paper. By the time she landed, the drone was already flying back to the base, completing the mission. The nurses unwrap the protective vial of glass ampoules, and after a few minutes the vaccine was inserted into another plump little thigh; another child whistled.

“It’s great to get the necessary medication while waiting for the patient,” says Tete. “It will be so convenient in case of emergency and when it is necessary to guarantee the protection of every mother and child.”

Zipline Technician launches drone

It was the promise of significant consequences that convinced GAVI, the global alliance for vaccines and immunization , to support the delivery service by drones, financing the project together with the social division of the giant among the delivery services are UPS, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Pfizer. GAVI Innovation Head Moz Siddiqi explains: “In 2015, we set ourselves the goal of vaccinating 300 million children by 2020, and we already reached 86%, but the remaining 14% are the hardest to reach - they live in hard-to-reach areas, city slums , or their parents are too busy to come back for vaccinations. We hope that the delivery of drones will close this gap. ”

Anthony Nsia-Azare, director general of health in Ghana, says that drones provide a cheaper, effective and reliable way to deliver drugs “just in time” to rural, remote or nomadic communities, compared to traditional systems.

He and the President of Ghana watched for the first time a trial run of the system in the small mountainous Republic of Rwanda in 2016, and they were immediately struck by this simple way of dramatically improving the situation with the complex infrastructure of Africa. Just as mobile phones allowed communication with regions that do not have a wired connection, so “people with bad roads, floods and other infrastructure projects will be able to get the medicines they need,” says Nsia-Azare.

His enthusiasm was the main driving force behind the project, and he worked with Californian startup Zipline to create the world's largest delivery program for drones.

The government of Ghana launched this service on April 24 as part of an integrated health care system, offering to pay for delivery by subscription. According to Nsia-Azare, the enterprise paid off in the very first days of work by delivering blood to the injured person, which saved his life, insulin to the patient in a state of ketosis, and magnesium sulfate for the woman who gave birth to dangerously high blood pressure.

Drones are based in special nodes, the first of which opened this week - a shining building located on a clearing in the wooded hills of Omenaco. Soon three more nodes will join him, and by the end of the year two more will open. There is a warehouse with climate control for the storage of medicine and emergency supplies, as well as a drones launch and control shop. By the end of the year, the authorities intend to open six regional hubs, which will ensure coverage of delivery throughout the country by drones.

On the original article there is another video on the topic of sending - unfortunately, the Habr editor does not allow to insert it here.

But the service was not without criticism. Some complained that it would be better to spend money on traditional services - for example, on the purchase of ambulances. However, the government spends less money on delivery by drones than on delivery by motorbike or pickup - and this means that drones are more effective.

Biotechnology entrepreneur Keller Rinuado founded the Zipline startup company, working from his home five years ago. Since then, as director, he has attracted $ 41 million in investment, including support from Google Ventures and the founders of Yahoo and Microsoft.

“I wanted to use technology to solve the real problem of the world — to help save people,” he says. The company now employs specialists from SpaceX, Boeing and NASA, who developed, created and optimized their own drones, software for autonomous flights, launching and landing systems - and some of their inventions have already been adopted by other major players. Zipline stopped on a drone with a fixed wing, powered by a battery, capable of carrying 1.8 kg of cargo up to 80 km at a speed of 110 km/h.

The firm expects 600 flights a day, serving 12 million people, Rinaudo says. At that moment, when we are talking to him, they fulfill an order at the warehouse. One of the 30 modular drones loaded with valuable cargo and fresh batteries is set to launch. The span of its wings is 3 meters, and from the nose to the tail there is one and a half meters in it.

An aircraft engineer, one of four members of a team consisting entirely of female ganok, conducts the final checks. Then she receives permission from the Civil Aviation Authority to launch a drone into the sky. Failure to use rotors for takeoff and landing drastically reduces energy requirements, which allows the use of lighter batteries.

If the launch can be called interesting, then the landing is generally something out of the ordinary. Two metal triangular profiles, between the tops of which a thin wire is stretched, must catch the drone in flight. Success seems unlikely. And yet, the returning drone steers so that, while lowering, a small hook on its tail catches the wire. And here he hangs his nose down to the next mission. The team says that the drone can work in any weather, including strong winds.

For nurses such as Tete, this service is a lifeline for their community. “When the mother has contractions, she waits for us to save her,” she says. “We don't want to be late with that.”

Source text: [Translation] How drones in Ghana deliver vital medicines