Zipline, a Silicon Valley drone company, is using its drones in Ghana's fight against the spread of the coronavirus 2019 disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Zipline drones are being used in Ghana to shuttle medical supplies as well as to carry medical samples from patients who are suspected to have contracted COVID-19.

Once the samples are collected, they are sent to labs in Ghana’s big cities for testing and monitoring of the spread of COVID-19 across the West African country.

“Immediately [when] they have a suspected case of COVID, they reach out to Zipline. Using multimodal transportation, we are then able to reach out to them, pick up the samples from them, [go] to our distribution center, and from our distribution center, our drone then flies it off to the testing lab,” said Daniel Marfo, general manager of Zipline in Ghana.

A worker prepares a Zipline drone for the delivery of medical supplies at a service base in Omenako, Ghana. (2019)

Using drones for medical delivery across Africa

Ghana is among a list African countries that have taken to using drones for the transportation of medical supplies and samples.

Rwanda began using Zipline drones which were capable of making up to 150 deliveries per day of life-saving blood to 21 transfusing facilities located in the western half of the country. Later, during 2017, Tanzania partnered with Zipline to launch what they dubbed the world’s largest medical drone delivery service. South Africa also launched the transportation of blood samples using drones in 2019. However, in South Africa's case, the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) did not contract Zipline but rather designed its own drones and commissioned their manufacturing.

Despite their popularity, some researchers have pointed out that drones are not necessarily the most cost-effective method for delivering medical supplies in Africa. Part of the report titled "Uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) versus motorcycles to deliver laboratory samples in west Africa: a comparative economic study" by The Lancet, an international family of health journals, argues that when factors such as range and durability are considered, in many cases motorcycles offer a cost-effective option for the delivery of lab samples in West African countries.

Fighting COVID-19 in Ghana

As it is across most African countries, COVID-19 has also highlighted the deficiencies of Ghana's healthcare system.

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This sentiment has also been echoed by the country's President, Nana Akufo-Addo, during a televised address. Akufo-Addo highlighted and acknowledged that COVID-19 had“exposed the deficiencies” of Ghana’s health care system. He added that this was as a result of years of underinvestment and neglect.

“We shall make these investments in our health care system not because it is going to be easy, but because it is self-evidently necessary to serve the needs of 21st-century Ghana,” said Akufo-Addo as he promised the people of Ghana that the government will invest in Ghana’s health care infrastructure and build 88 hospitals.

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