Africa is experiencing a boom in the drone or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) industry, which is growing into a sizeable business. People are starting to understand the various advantages of employing drones for both commercial and non-commercial uses, which has helped this quickly developing industry thrive. 

This trend can be attributed to poor road infrastructure, of which drones are proving to be an efficient way of providing logistical services for the delivery of supplies in rural areas. It might interest one to know that two-thirds of the estimated 287,000 women who died in 2020, did so in sub-Saharan Africa from pregnancy- and childbirth-related illnesses that may have been avoided. Due to the lengthy travel times required by conventional modes of transportation and the terrible state of the roads, the blood could not reach the patient quickly enough.  

In Africa, drones are increasingly utilised to spray larvicide in wetlands to combat malaria by donor organisations, carry blood and vaccines to isolated locations. It is no surprise that this was the motivating factor behind Life Bank located in Nigeria was originally founded to save postpartum haemorrhage mothers from bleeding to death through the timely provision of blood transfusion supplies. The organisation has also taken steps to launch its blood deliveries and sample pickups via drones. 

Related: Shared responsibilities pave the way for affordable healthcare in Africa

Drone delivery in healthcare has the ability to decrease costs, protect supply chain integrity, get around geographic restrictions, and speed up and improve delivery. In nearby Rwanda in Eastern Africa, Zipline supplies blood and medical supplies in 45 minutes to the farthest location within their distribution sphere. This could be a distance that could take as much as four hours to cover depending on the road conditions. 

Similarly in Malawi, Matternet, a Swiss drone logistics company, has partnered with various organisations in Africa to facilitate the delivery of medical supplies. The most prominent of its partnerships remains collaboration with UNICEF to speed up infant HIV testing and diagnosis. 

In Tanzania and Rwanda, Wingcopter seems to have been enhancing their accessibility to remote and inaccessible regions by designing versatile drones capable of vertical takeoff and landing. They have successfully used their drones to deliver medicines, vaccines, and diagnostic samples, strengthening the healthcare systems in these African nations. 

Related: East Africa keenly explores blockchain technology in healthcare

As technology continues to evolve and drone delivery continues to establish the potential to revolutionise healthcare access in Africa, undeniably, there are issues that need to be resolved. Some of the main obstacles to overcome are regulatory frameworks, airspace laws, privacy issues, and public acceptance. For thorough regulations to be created and safe and responsible drone delivery services to be implemented, collaboration between governments, healthcare organisations, and drone manufacturers is essential. 

The exploration of drone delivery services for medical supplies in Africa holds immense promise for improving healthcare access and saving lives. Drone delivery for medical supplies in Africa represents a significant step toward achieving equitable healthcare access and improving the well-being of communities throughout the continent.  

By embracing this innovative solution, Africa would be taking great strides at the forefront of revolutionising healthcare logistics and creating a brighter future for healthcare delivery. 

This article appears in Omnia Health magazine. Read the full issue online today.

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