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CA-based drone delivery pioneer Zipline has partnered with the Tanzanian government to deliver critical and life-saving medicines to over 1,000 health facilities.  The program, which will serve 10 million people across the country with up to 2,000 drone deliveries per day, will be the largest drone delivery service in the world.

“Every life is precious. The government of Tanzania through the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children has made great achievements in improving health services including the availability of medicines in all Public Health Facilities,” said Dr. Mpoki Ulisubisya, Permanent Secretary of the Tanzania Ministry of Health. “Our vision is to have a healthy society with improved social well being that will contribute effectively to personal and national development; working with Zipline will help make that vision a reality.”

Blood boxes delivered by Zipline

“We strive to ensure that all 5,640 public health facilities have all the essential medicines, medical supplies and laboratory reagents they need, wherever they are—even in the most the hard to reach areas” said Laurean Bwanakunu, Director General of Tanzania’s Medical Stores Department. “But that mission can be a challenge during emergencies, times of unexpected demand, bad weather, or for small but critical orders. Using drones for just-in-time deliveries will allow us to provide health facilities with complete access to vital medical products no matter the circumstance.”

While the Tanzanian program will be the largest in the world, it is not the first.  Zipline made headlines in the drone industry last year, when they partnered with the government of Rwanda to make on-demand emergency blood deliveries to transfusion clinics.  “Since the October launch, Zipline has flown more than 100,000 km in Rwanda, delivering 2,600 units of blood over 1,400 flights,” says the company.

With extreme terrain and poor ground transportation infrastructure, developing countries are quickly realizing the benefits of drone delivery.  Delivery by drone is not only far faster, but can be no more expensive than delivery by ground.

“Millions of people across the world die each year because they can’t get the medicine they need when they need it,” said Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo. “It’s a problem in both developed and developing countries. But it’s a problem we can help solve with on-demand drone delivery. And African nations are showing the world how it’s done.”

Zipline has established a successful solution to the problem of landing delivery drones – they don’t.  Zipline drones fly missions to a location and drop their payload safely by parachute, returning to the home base without touching ground.  Zipline describes the details of the Tanzanian program:

Tanzania will make on-demand drone delivery of blood transfusion supplies, emergency vaccines, HIV medications, anti-malarials and critical medical supplies like sutures and IV tubes. Working in conjunction with the Tanzanian Ministry of Health and the country’s Medical Stores Department (MSD), Zipline will establish four distribution centers across the country.

The first distribution center, located in Dodoma, the country’s capital, will begin its first flights in the first quarter of 2018. Three additional distribution centers—two in the northwestern corner of Tanzania near Mwanza and Lake Victoria, and one in the Southern Highlands near Mbeya—will follow, working in close collaboration with civil and military aviation authorities.

Each of the four distribution centers will be equipped with up to 30 drones and is capable of making up to 500 on-demand delivery flights a day. The drones can carry 1.5 kilos of cargo, cruising at 110 kilometers an hour, and have a round trip range of 160 kilometers. Health workers place delivery orders by text message and receive their package within 30 minutes on average. Zipine’s drones take off and land at the distribution center only, requiring no additional infrastructure at the clinics it serves. Deliveries happen from the sky, with the drone descending close to the ground and air dropping the medicine to a designated spot near the health centers.

“Zipline’s commercial partnerships with Rwanda and Tanzania are expected to save thousands of lives over the next several years,” says the company.  “Zipline is hard at work catching up to demand to expand drone delivery services to countries across the world throughout 2018.”

Miriam McNabb is the CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. She writes for DRONELIFE on current news, financial trends, and FAA regulations. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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