Drone delivery firm Zipline starts delivery of COVID-19 samples in Ghana

Zipline, a Silicon Valley drone delivery startup has begun delivery of COVID-19 test samples in Ghana after competitor Swoop Aero announced a similar move in Malawi in a bid to help curb the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zipline in a statement, said it’s helping its public, private, and philanthropic partners around the world develop and execute national-scale responses to COVID-19.

“As new treatments and vaccines become available in the next 18-24 months, they will continue to be in scarce supply amid growing global demand. Zipline’s medical drone delivery service could help make sure distribution is targeted in real-time, at national-scale, to the people and populations that need it most, helping to save lives and prevent further outbreaks,” the firm said.

The firm told CNBC it begun Friday delivery of critical medical supplies in Ghana’s two largest cities — Accra, the nation’s capital, and Kumasi, the country’s second-largest city.

The service began April 17, when 51 COVID-19 test samples collected from patients at rural health facilities were transported to Zipline’s distribution center in Omenako, Ghana. The 51 samples were packed according to World Health Organization guidelines into four Zipline drones to Accra for testing and analysis.

The packages were dropped to waiting medical personnel at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research. Zipline is also delivering samples from another distribution center in Ghana to Kumasi, the country’s second-largest city.

Drone delivery allows medical officials to sharply reduce the amount of time it takes to obtain test samples from hard-to-reach rural areas. Instead of waiting several days for a batch of samples to be transported by truck, a single test from a rural area can be delivered for analysis in less than an hour.

Zipline is also delivering masks and other personal protective gear, as well as medicine and blood, to medical facilities in Ghana and Rwanda during the coronavirus outbreak.

“Zipline is dedicated to helping Ghana in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” said CEO Keller Rinaudo in a statement. “Using contactless drone delivery to transport COVID-19 test samples will allow the government to respond to the pandemic and help save lives more quickly.”

Zipline, had planned a U.S. launch this year and is in talks with the Federal Aviation Administration to begin “emergency humanitarian operations” here as soon as possible. The firm will focus on distributing scarce resources like test kits and personal protective equipment like masks and gloves across health systems more efficiently and effectively.

Zipline has also been working since 2018 with the U.S. Department of Defense in the U.S. and Australia to demonstrate how its technology could help provide critical care in conflict, humanitarian and disaster relief scenarios.

Nigeria’s LifeBank, a medical sample and blood delivery startup recently launched drone deliveries in a bid to help its partner institutions increase efficiency and save more lives. LifeBank’s first drone flight took off in Ethiopia with support from the Ethiopian Government’s Information Network Security Agency (INSA) and The Drones Doing Good Alliance (DDG).

TechMoran is yet to establish if LifeBank will deploy its drones to help fight COVID-19 spread in Nigeria but the firm announced earlier it had mastered the delivery of essential medical products with simple mobility tools such as motorcycles and boats, drones, it said, were a tremendous addition to its service.


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