Zipline Rwanda uses drone technology to deliver medical supplies, save lives

By Sophia Lucente/Kent State NewsLab

Zipline, an organization in the Eastern Province of Rwanda, is using drone technology to deliver medical supplies and blood to hospitals throughout the country, saving countless lives. 

The facility is separated into two separate parts. In the first, scientists receive blood from donation sites, organize and store it. In the second, team members fly and receive drones, transporting that blood and other medical supplies to hospitals. 

“We noticed many people died, not because they should have died, but because the product was not there,” said Michel Balinda, who has worked at Zipline for four years 

Balinda explained that the drones drop each package at a hospital in a special package with a parachute attached, then turn around and return to the facility. 

“When the drone drops the package, the parachute opens immediately,” he said. “The team in here is always packing the product, putting it in the window and then sending it out.”

Michel described an instance where a nearby village hospital needed blood. “They needed blood in Rwamagana… It would normally take 6 hours to get emergency blood there,” he said. “If there is a mother on the table bleeding out, she is going to bleed for 6 hours.” 

With the help of Zipline, hospitals in Rwamagana are able to get blood in 30 minutes.

“Since we have been here, we reduced the rate of maternal hemorrhage by 80%,” Michel said. 

In the second part of the facility, the drones are carried over from storage to where they will fly out on a long belt that sends the drones into the air. Team members connect the drone in three pieces — the body, wings and container containing the medical supplies — to the belt. Then, a worker programs the drone to fly to the correct hospital and deliver the medical supplies. 

At the same time, team members work to receive the drones after they fly in and are stopped by an attachment that hangs the drones by a rope. As the drone swings back and forth, the workers take it apart in pieces, bringing it back to be stored or charged. 

As they work, they listen to upbeat African music, delivering and receiving drones every few minutes. 

The assembly line in both parts of the facility continues throughout the day, sending people in Rwandan hospitals the blood and medical supplies they need. 

Their goal is to use drone technology to “improve the life of Rwanda,” Balinda said — delivering medical supplies to help rural communities across the country. 

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