Imagine drones dropping medicines and drugs from the sky, bypassing those bad roads, undulating topography and annoying traffic snarls.
This will soon play out in Cross River and Kaduna States.
On a parch of red, stone-sprinkled earth in Omenako, north of Accra, Ghana, a dozen young men and women neatly package medicines and pharmaceutical products into boxes, insert them inside drones and launch the drones, which then fly at supersonic speeds to healthcare facilities across Ghana.
At Apedwa Health Center, several kilometers away from Zipline’s drone launch facility, Doctor Frank Klomlawunu and his nurses, wait on a lawn just outside the quiet health facility marooned between trees, shrubs and a swathe of green vegetation, to pick up their box of medicine supplies which they had ordered from Zipline just minutes prior.
“It’s a miracle unfolding right before our eyes in Ghana,” Klomlawunu says with a grin that punctures through this crispy, clean Ghanaian air.
“There is no headache, no logistical hurdles to worry about, no delays. Once we order for our medicines, in 10 minutes or less, the drone drops them here at the exact spot, we pick up our box and go in there to save lives,” he adds, fingers clasped and raised to the heavens in appreciation.
That ‘Ghanaian miracle’ is on its way to being replicated across Nigeria, says Daniel Marfo, Zipline Senior Vice President for Africa, who adds that this will be thanks to collaboration with Gavi (the vaccine alliance company), courier companies and the Kaduna and Cross River State governments.
“We will soon start delivering COVID-19 vaccines, medicine supplies, pharmaceuticals, blood plasma, just about all kinds of medicines to these two states and many others across Africa’s most populous nation, in the weeks and months ahead,” Marfo says in that assured, British-tinged Ghanaian accent that leaves you in little doubt.
“What this will do is that in minutes, we can launch a drone laden with a box of medicines from Calabar for instance, which will arrive in Obubra, Obudu or Bekwarra in minutes.
“This cuts out delays in delivering drugs to under-served, far flung communities due to bad roads, traffic or other such impediments you encounter through road travel. Our mission is to provide every human on earth with instant access to vital medical supplies.
“We want to make sure that lives are not lost through logistical impediments. We want to deliver drugs, blood to people during emergencies like snake bites for instance.
“On June 26, 2021, for instance, a pregnant, hemorrhaging patient arrived at Asamankese Hospital in rural Ghana. The patient required 4 units of O+ blood, which was not stocked at the facility.
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“Fortunately, there’s a third, life-saving option. We delivered that blood in a couple of minutes. That’s what we will be doing in Cross River and Kaduna pretty soon. Every medical product is 60 minutes away from 1100+ health facilities,” Marfo adds.
Through a fleet of drones from four distribution centers in Ghana, Zipline serves up to 700 delivery points within a 20,100 KmSq service area.
“We carry 95% of typical outpatient prescription shipments and 75% of typical medical-surgical products to far flung communities across Ghana on drones,” says Florence Haruna, Performance Operations Lead at Zipline.
“On a typical day, we do an average of 150 deliveries to hospital campuses, outpatient practices, and patients’ homes across Ghana.
“In Ghana, they call and know our drones as ‘Flying Ambulances,” Haruna adds with a chuckle that echoes through this laboratory stocked full with all kinds of medical supplies from a plethora of pharmaceutical brands.
Overhead, the next drone shoots through the sky, a box of medicines and parachute in its underbelly.
It will parachute the box with technological, laser-guided precision on a lawn somewhere in a remote, quiet Ghanaian community, to applause from doctors, nurses and lab technicians alike.
The people of Kaduna and Cross River will be thrilled and dumb-struck when these drones start dropping badly needed vaccines and drugs from their skylines.
“Those farmers and rural dwellers don’t know what’s about to hit them. We will blow their minds away. They will think it’s witchcraft…’Oyinbo’ witchcraft,” a top-ranking Cross River State official who was in the room when the Zipline deal was inked, tells this writer through fits of uncontrolled laughter.