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Drones to supply drugs in Rwanda

A dozen unmanned aircraft will in August start delivering blood and vaccines to remote and mostly hilly areas of Rwanda.

The move to embrace the small aircraft, commonly referred to as drones, comes a year after Kenya banned their use over security concerns.

It is the first time drones will be used commercially in Africa with anticipated benefits of saving lives through faster delivery.

Rwanda's Health Minister Agnes Binagwaho unveiled the drone service late Friday in Kigali, describing the step as transformative for her ministry.

"We expect that using drones will enable us respond to emergencies faster," Dr Binagwaho said, while acknowledging that while the unmanned aircraft had not been used in enhancing healthcare before, Rwanda needed not to learn from anyone else.

In the trailblazing step, blood from the central bank will be loaded on to the drones before the contractor remotely navigates them to health centres and dispensaries in far-flung villages.

"It will be cheaper and more efficient," added Binagwaho in whose country malaria and delivery-related complications are the main reasons for blood transfusion.

Nearly 66,000 units of blood were distributed in 2015 to hospitals and other healthcare facilities in Rwanda – a country of about 11 million.

An American firm, Zipline, is now assembling the required drones for the first delivery expected in less than three months.

Each drone has the capacity to deliver two bags of blood, the health minister said, travelling at speeds of over 100 kilometres per hour.

President Kagame earlier in the day allayed fears about inherent risks in the use of drones for his country, specifically for the aviation industry.

Mr Kagame told a press conference held at the close of the World Economic Forum that his country's civil aviation authority had come up with guidelines that would avert any real threat.

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