14 Lake Region counties to receive vaccines, blood through drones

A technician of California-based robotics company Zipline launches a drone, on October 12, 2016, in Muhanga, 50 kilometers (31 miles) west of the capital Kigali. [AFP, Stephanie Aglietti]

A pilot programme that would see the 14 Lake Region Economic Bloc counties receive Covid-19 vaccines, blood and other medical supplies via drones was launched in Kisumu.

Kisumu residents are set to be the first beneficiaries of an instant logistics service that uses drones to deliver medical commodities reminiscent of the way it is done in Rwanda.

The drones provided by Zipline organisation are capable of making on-demand and emergency deliveries and other life-saving medications.

Governor Anyang Nyong’o’s administration was the first to sign a memorandum of understanding with Zipline for a partnership at Acacia Hotel in Kisumu Town yesterday that will ensure access to vaccines and other medical commodities in facilities in the county.

The other 13 Lake Region counties that are to join the partnership are to also benefit from the project.

Zipline will build a warehouse and an autonomous aircraft technology for storage and delivery of the medical commodities in Kisumu which will also act as a distribution centre. The facilities and aircraft technology will be capable of covering most parts of the counties in the region.

Speaking during the signing of an agreement between the distribution hub and Kisumu County, Zipline senior vice president for Africa Daniel Marfo said the distribution hub will act as the base of operations for their unscrewed aerial system and services.

“Zipline service is capable of serving health projects and facilities across 14 counties in western Kenya. We will expedite the distribution hub construction process to ensure that access to healthcare for life-threatening illnesses and vaccines is achieved rapidly,” said Marfo.

Marfo said the firm has established partnerships in Rwanda, Ghana, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya.

He said the firm is seeking to carry out an industrious technology-driven transformation in the health sector.

“To increase access and reduce medical waste, key stock of blood products, vaccines and lifesaving medications will be stored at Zipline’s distribution centre for just in time delivery. Health workers will place orders by text message or call and promptly receive their deliveries exactly when and where they need them in 30 minutes on average,” he noted.

1.8kgs cargo

The drones take off from and land at Ziplines distribution hub requires no additional infrastructure or manpower at the clinics they serve. They fly autonomously and could carry 1.8 kilos of cargo, cruising at 110 kilometres an hour and have a round trip range of 160 kilometres even in high speed winds and rain.

Kisumu deputy governor Mathews Owili said for long having remote and marginalised areas experienced difficulties to access medical products like drugs and vaccines.

Owili noted that a number of structures have been put in place to bridge the growing gap while outreaches to the areas like Beyond Zero trucks have been tried which have yielded required results although they require heavy financial resources.

“Having made some significant efforts in improving the overall healthcare delivery of our people, it is heartwarming to note therefore that our mission of achieving universal health coverage is on course. This historic partnership will ensure that no one is left behind as a result of their location,” added Owili.

LREB chairman and Governor Wycliffe Oparanya directed the remaining counties in the bloc to enter the partnership with Zipline to harness their technology.

Oparanya said Zipline’s technology could be used in accelerating the transformation of the health systems to provide timely healthcare solutions to the people.