With the aim of saving lives of the critically ill Ghana’s lawmakers have approved the deployment of drones to deliver medical supplies around the country. When fully deployed, Ghana will become the first country in West Africa – and the largest in the world – to implement a delivery system of this kind.
Zipline plans to deliver blood, drugs, vaccines and other medical supplies to health centres in remote areas. The procedure: the health centre sends a request for supplies via text message; the supplies are packed and the drone launched; in the next 30-45 minutes, the drone drops the package which is slowed down by a parachute.
Daniel Marfo, who is in charge of systems integration at Zipline Ghana explains that over the past 8 months the company has been laying the ground work for the project in Ghana, to better understand the health care landscape and looking into how they could improve the supply chain system.
The scheme has come under criticism from several quarters including a section of Ghana’s lawmakers and medical professional. The Ghana Medical Association (GMA) made a statement stating, “The proposed services to be provided by the drones do not conform to the existing primary healthcare policy in Ghana. The use of drones without the necessary improvement in the human resource capacity will not (contribute) to the benefit of the country in its quest to improve healthcare delivery.”
‘Life saving’ technology
“Everybody everywhere should have quality care and Ghanaians are going to use drones to deliver drugs and services,” announced Nsiah Asare, director general of the government’s Ghana Health Service. “We believe that it is the most efficient, effective and cheapest way to deliver to the remotest and underserved areas in the country.”
The Ghana Civil Aviation Authority will create an air corridor for the drones to prevent collisions with larger aircraft.
Marfo told the media that together with the ministry of health, the company has mapped out its distribution sites, which will house emergency stocks of medicine and supplies and function as the launch pads for the drones. The first of four sites is located in Suhum in eastern Ghana. Within the first year, a second site is planned. The drones only fly within a radius of 80km and the first distribution site is expected to cover 500 health facilities.
Value for money
The high cost of the drone program was another matter of debate in Ghana. Putting doubts to rest, Marfo explains that the government will only be paying for the actual delivery service, “A lot of corporate organizations are taking up the cost of the project as part of their corporate social responsibility,” he said. “Currently the Ministry of Health and government are not footing any bill with regards to service costs.”